THE WORDS wereeerily similar to ones Julius Hodge had heard before: "Rex wants to seeyou." As Hodge walked down a hallway inside the Pepsi Center toward theoffice of Denver Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman, onething was running through his mind. "I thought he was going to send me backto the D-League," says Hodge. "Instead, he told me I was traded."It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Hodge, who in the span of 10 dayshas gone from the Colorado 14ers (Denver's D-League affiliate) to the Nuggetsand finally to the Milwaukee Bucks, who acquired him last week along with EarlBoykins in a trade for Steve Blake. "It's crazy, isn't it?" says Hodge."But the way things have gone for me, I'm just happy to be playing atall."
Last April the6'7" Hodge, Denver's top pick (20th overall) in the 2005 NBA draft, wasdriving home with a friend from a Denver nightclub when—in an incidentstrikingly similar to the one in which another Denver athlete, Broncoscornerback Darrent Williams, was killed on Jan. 1—a car pulled up alongside hisblack BMW and someone inside the other vehicle opened fire. Three bulletsstruck Hodge, two in his left leg and one in his left hip. "I rememberpulling over and trying to get out and walk and feeling my legs justburning," says Hodge, who used his fingers to dig out a slug that hadpassed through his left leg and into his right. His friend flagged down acouple in a passing car, and they brought Hodge to a nearby hospital.
There, doctorstold Hodge that while he would not need surgery, one of the bullets was lodgedjust millimeters from the femoral artery in his left leg and could not beremoved. If the slug were to shift slightly and penetrate the artery, Hodge ranthe risk of severe blood loss and possibly the amputation of his leg. As he layin a hospital bed that night, Hodge began to contemplate a life withoutbasketball. "I was thinking about how I was going to have to start my highschool coaching career a little early," he says. "Or maybe try andbecome an actor."
The next dayHodge was released from the hospital and began a painful rehabilitation. Fortwo months he was on a steady regimen of pain relievers and antibiotics. Whenhe finally regained some mobility in July, he started feeling sharp pains inhis left leg where the bullet still remained. Having determined that it was nowsafe to operate, doctors went in and removed the slug, one of four surgeriesHodge would undergo over the next four months. "It wasn't just the bulletthat was in there," says Hodge. "There were bits of clothing andfragments as well that were causing me a lot of pain."
January 22, 2007
The operationscost the 23-year-old from New York City a spot on the Nuggets' summer leagueroster, and it wasn't until late November that Hodge was finally cleared toplay. A league source says Denver thought about waiving him but instead shippedhim 17 miles away to Broomfield to rehab and learn to play point guard.
In nine gameswith the 14ers, he averaged 12.1 points and 9.4 assists. On Dec. 27 he hit agame-winning, 17 foot jumper with 4.6 seconds left as Colorado overcame an 18point deficit to beat the Anaheim Arsenal. Six days later Hodge was a Nugget,and in just his second game back he earned his first career start, in a lineupwith Allen Iverson. Then came the trade to injury-ravaged Milwaukee. "I'mjubilant," says Hodge. "This is an opportunity I've been waitingfor."
Hodge has put theassault behind him—the Adams County sheriff's office says Hodge has beencooperative but couldn't supply much information, and no suspects have yet beenidentified—and he is focused on staying in the NBA. "My body feelsgood," he says. "I'm ready to play the game at this level."
And ready toprove he was worthy of being a No. 1 pick. No. 1, that is, with a bullet.
Riding the D Train
Julius Hodge served time in the NBA Development Leaguein order to get back to the NBA. Here are four intriguing D-League players whocould travel the same path.
C, Bakersfield Jam (NBA rights: Warriors)
Seven-footer from Bradley was first lottery pick (ninth overall in 2006) to beassigned to D-League. Sent down on Dec. 31, he averaged 6.6 points, 7.8rebounds and 2.40 blocks in first five D-League games.
G, Idaho Stampede (Jazz)
Joined NBA straight out of high school in '05 and started 12 games for Utahthis season, but was sent to Idaho on Jan. 11, where he teams with SuperSonics'2006 first-round pick Mouhamed Sene.
C, Anaheim Arsenal (free agent)
First Korean player in NBA, this 7'3" former Trail Blazer (he played 46games over two seasons with Portland) was cut by the Bucks in October andsigned with the Arsenal on Dec. 31.
G, Sioux Falls Skyforce (free agent)
New York streetball star (nicknamed Homicide) led CBA in assists (9.8 per game)last season; final player cut in training camp by the Raptors in 2005; was incamp with the Nuggets in '06.