Duke's Rodney Hood healthy following Achilles injury in June

USA TODAY Sports

Hood will be a key piece for Coach K and the Blue Devils this season as they push for another Final Four appearance.

After sitting out last season, Rodney Hood is ready to suit up for the Duke Blue Devils.

Hood, who played one year at Mississippi State before transferring to Durham, projects to be one of the better players on a team that some will have in their preseason top-five. While anticipation for Hood's first season in a Blue Devils uniform is high, it nearly got derailed back in June.

As Hood was practicing with Team USA prior to the World University Games, he injured his Achilles tendon. Some feared he ruptured the tendon and that it could be an injury that would linger for a long time.

As this article from Reuters detailed, quite a few NBA players who have dealt with Achilles injuries (or tears altogether) have ended up retiring. Kobe Bryant is one recent example of an All-Star who tore the tendon, and now his career may be in jeopardy. Other stars like Chauncey Billups and Elton Brand haven't been the same since their injuries.

Fortunately for Duke, the Achilles injury only kept Hood on the sidelines for about six weeks.

ESPN's Andy Katz reported on Tuesday that Hood is "completely recovered" and that he has been able to participate in summer workouts, according to assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski. With new ACC member Syracuse and longtime-rival North Carolina both expected to compete for the conference title in 2014, the Blue Devils will need all the help they can get from their newcomers.

There will be no shortage of talent for coach Mike Krzyzewski next season. Returnees Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon figure to anchor the backcourt. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee will be looked upon to hold down the paint.

The two primary newcomers, Hood and freshman phenom Jabari Parker, will likely determine just how far the school goes in March. And the early money is on Coach K playing those two on the floor together as much as possible.

They both stand at 6'8, with Parker holding a slight weight advantage. Hood is capable of guarding either the two-guard or small forward, while Parker projects to match up with small forwards and the larger power forwards. Given that versatility on the court, the Duke coaching staff will be able to mix-and-match their defensive matchups throughout the game. Once conference play rolls around, this will be a huge advantage for the Blue Devils.

It's going to be tough to stop both players on the other end of the floor. Both are highly skilled with the ball in their hands, and they can both shoot the ball from any spot on the floor, especially from behind the arc. Here's what ESPN's scouting report says of Parker's game:

"When it comes to scoring he hardly ever forces the issue as his instincts and unselfishness are advanced for a young player. Parker can beat defenses from long, and mid range consistently while his dribble drive game is best utilized against like sized defenders or bigger. Simply affects the game in so many positive ways: scoring, passing, rebounding and handling the ball in addition to being very unselfish. Match up nightmare as he goes by taller guys and post up smaller ones. Overall, great feel with an elite basketball IQ."

Perhaps most importantly, Parker is a winner. He won four straight state titles at Simeon Academy in Chicago and helped Team USA win a gold medal this summer at the U-19 World Games. Players with talent and a winning background tend to shine brightest once February and March roll around.

There will likely be some growing pains early in the year, as Duke loses its top three scorers from last season's Elite 8 team. The coaching staff will also have to figure out how to mesh Hood with Parker as the two spend at least 25 minutes a night on the floor together. They may have similar playing styles, but if they are able to feed off each other, it's going to be near impossible to slow both of them down, let alone one. With strong seasons, Hood and Parker could be headed for the bright lights of the NBA come the summer of 2014.

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