MICHIGAN CITY — Off the basketball court, Jamie Hodges, Jr., is a quiet, soft-spoken 15-year old who chooses his words carefully.
It’s on the hardwood where the dynamic Michigan City freshman and La Porte County’s Player of the Year best expresses himself.
“He was literally saying, ‘I don’t want to go home,’” Wolves assistant coach Antonio Hurt said of the March 6 sectional game against South Bend Adams. “He didn’t want to lose.”
With City struggling, it was the kid who put them on his back, hitting four deep 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to nearly bring the Wolves all the way back.
For those like Hurt, who have known Hodges for a long time, the extraordinary – whether it’s the shooting, the blow-by drives, the rebounding or the on-ball defense – has become the ordinary.
“I’ve been watching him play for a long time,” Hurt said. “I’ve known his dad since he was a kid. Our families know each other well. He would always tell me, keep watching him. I was like, all right. I’d seen him play and I was like, OK. You could tell once he was on the court, it was all you could watch. It was amazing to watch how far ahead he was. He had a real good basketball IQ. That’s something a lot of great players don’t have. To have that at an early age is great. People see, a freshman, 15 points a game, that’s shocking. Going into the season, I knew what he could do.”
Hodges’ first recollections of basketball were a pictures of him with a ball when he was 1. He started playing in the MCBL (Michigan City Basketball League) when he was in second grade and was almost immediately bumped up to the fourth-grade team, a trend that has never changed.
“I’ve been playing up my whole life,” Hodges said. “Most of the time I come to the gym, there’ll be older guys there and I’ll play with them.”
That includes Hurt, a 2006 City graduate.
“(Hodges) was always like so even-keel about it, oh well, all right, I’ll play,” Hurt said. “He was better as a second grader than fourth, fifth sixth graders. Even at Jarrod Jones LTG (Love The Game) Camp, we’d tell him he would be with age group and he wouldn’t complain about it. After maybe two minutes, it was, all right, never mind. Even as a like a sixth grader, he was with the high school group, just to make it fair, and he would still stand out. No matter where you put him, you’ve got to notice him. He probably could’ve started on varsity at 5-foot-2 in sixth grade. He was better than some seniors.”
With a humility that he credits to his parents, his dad Jamie and mom Julia Flowers, Hodges just smiles as Hurt lavish praises on him. Even his trash talk is chill.
“We literally sat down one point (and said), Jamie, you’re a 3-point shooter now,” Hurt said. “I think he got tired of me talking trash to him. He’s so mellow, he just smiles. He’ll just look at me like, how was that? He won’t say anything. I think the most (he talks) is at practice with teammates. The first time we played La Porte, he only had like eight points, so the whole week before sectional, I talked trash to him, then he had like 17, 18. After the game, he texted me, how’s that?”
It’s that demeanor that has helped Hodges handle every moment like a veteran.
He jumped right into the lineup and quickly became City’s go-to guy in clutch moments. When the game was close late, he had the basketball.
“It doesn’t affect me,” said Hodges, who models his game after Kyrie Irving and Trae Young. “Usually, playing in games, I can’t hear anything. I just zone everything out. I just play. I don’t get bothered too much.”
Even people who know him don’t always notice.
“I think when it comes to playing, he gets more upset than nervous,” Hurt said. “He gets upset, but it’s still hard to tell. If you haven’t been around him a lot, you can’t tell.”
Hodges came into the season with a goal of averaging 15 points per game, though his first priority was Ws.
“Just help the team win,” he said. “Our record was better than I thought it would be. We beat good teams I didn’t expect to beat, like Valpo.”
The 15.2 scoring average only came with some cajoling as Hodges has a pass-first mentality.
“It may not sound right, but one thing I try to preach to him more is selfishness,” Hurt said. “He’s so unselfish, there are times I’m yelling at him, ‘Why don’t you have the ball?!’ Surprisingly, there are times we have to tell him, ‘You’re going to have to score at some point,’ or he won’t do it. There’s really no one who can stay in front of him. At times in practice, we have a no layup rule. If he’d shoot a layup, it doesn’t count. At Barker, he’d have 50-point games and take maybe two, three jumpers. They were all blow-by layups.
I don’t know if he wasn’t confident, he had a nice stroke, he just wasn’t shooting it.”
For the record, Hodges said his middle school high was ‘only’ 42. How much did the rest of the team score?
“Two,” he said.
A sturdy 5-8, Hodges has a muscular build that comes without much actual weight lifting, though he does work with performance trainer Eric Griffin. Because coach Tom Wells and his staff took over late last spring, they weren’t able to implement a weight program.
“I’ve never lifted weights,” Hodges said. “I don’t know how.”
Even so, Hodges is more than capable of holding his own physically, handling and guarding the ball as well as rebounding against players three years older.
“He’s one or two as far as best defenders, between him and Omarion (Hatch),” Hurt said. “He can guard one through five. They throw it down in the post 10 times, he’s going to get it five, six times. It’s my eighth year coach and he’s by far the best all-around player I’ve coached in all aspects of the game – offense, defense, IQ. I’ve never coached a top 100 player in their class and had them be so coachable, listening, learning things. That’s the biggest thing.”
The final lasting image, beyond the fourth-quarter shooting spree against Adams was of a poker-faced Hodges coming out of the La Porte locker room, his arms around teammates who were in tears, the hoods of their sweatshirts covering their faces.
“It was their last year, so I know it really hurt,” he said. “I was like, all right, I have to take care of them.”
Not that the loss didn’t sting. Far from it.
“We’re gonna win it next year,” Hodges said.
A ‘B’ student, Hodges will hit the AAU circuit as soon as the corona virus restrictions allow, moving from the Nike EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) to the NY2LA Basketball Association.
“I want to work on my shooting more,” he said. “I started too late.”
Hurt expects the recruiting parade to soon follow.
“He’s already so good right now, he’s really just polishing and absorbing more,” he said. “He’s going to have a good summer, come back and have an awesome sophomore season. The kind of player he is, the high AAU level he’s playing on, he’s going to attract attention. He’s 5-8, but he has a passion and heart for the game like he’s 6-5, 6-7. It’s hard to deny him. With his work ethic, and how he and his family are, I don’t think he has a ceiling.”