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February 16, 2013Jon Hood knows what it's like to tear an ACL.
He did it himself last summer.
His was in a practice. But when he saw Nerlens Noel crumple to the floor in the second half of Kentucky's game against Florida, he suspected the same had just happened to the freshman center.
Later, when he saw an image of Noel's knee bending out of place, he felt for him.
"When I saw the picture of him going down," Hood said, "my knee hurt."
Hood saw Noel after the game but hasn't since. He texted his teammate - told him, "thinking about you, if you need anything, let me know," Hood said - but hasn't gone to visit Noel yet.
Only because Hood remembers how much he disliked visitors immediately following his own injury.
"I didn't want anybody to come and see me," Hood said. "I think it was, you don't want that pity from somebody. The biggest thing is, yeah it happened. Now let's not remember it. Don't make me remember it again, because it hurts."
Still, Hood is one of a few Cats who can relate to what Noel just went through, and what he's about to undertake as the rehabilitation process begins. Sophomore Sam Malone has suffered the same injury as well. And former Wildcat Derek Anderson - who did visit Noel - tore his ACL during the 1996-97 season.
"DA knows as much as I do, if not more, about coming back really quick," Hood said.
How long Noel takes to come back will be determined. Right now, however, Kentucky is looking to make up for his lost production.
Hood could be a factor.
He's averaging 4.4 minutes per game but has picked up minutes at other times this season when the rotation was shortened by injury. When Willie Cauley-Stein missed four games, Hood played four minutes at Auburn and eight minutes at Ole Miss. He also played seven minutes at Florida.
Hood said he'll be "ready to do whatever I'm supposed to do," listing defense, rebounding and shooting open shots as his focus.
He's aware of his chance, and he's showing it.
"Jon Hood in practice yesterday, he's competing his butt off," Coach John Calipari said. "So I can see him going in. I said, 'It's not us believing in Jon, it's Jon believing in Jon.'"
In the zone?
With Noel out for the season, the Wildcats need to get defensive.
Which means there could be some changes to the defense. And if that means a zone the Cats are ready.
"We're prepared for it," said Calipari, who said UK might play more zone. "That's not why we did all this time, but we're absolutely prepared to play it and play if for long stretches if we want to."
UK has more played more zone this season than any of Calipari's previous teams. And with Kentucky losing the nation's top shot-blocker for the season the Cats will have to make up for his absence.
"We can't play the same defenses we were playing," Cauley-Stein said. "We've got to change defenses, because knowing that we had a shot-blocker - a really good shot-blocker - on our team, you could kind of gamble more, but now we have to play more solid defense and not let guards drive as much."
Noel was a safety valve for UK. If a player was beat on defense Noel was there to make it right. South Carolina head coach Frank Martin called him the "Human Eraser."
Hood said the each defender would have to be more accountable, and that starts with trust.
"We had guys that - I donít want to say not trust teammates, because that wasn't what it was," Hood said. "But we would have people who would fall asleep on defense and stuff like that. We can't have that. We can't afford to get beat on a drive.
"Yeah Willie Cauley-Stein is back there, he's a 7-footer and can block shots. But it helps when you've got Nerlens, who's everybody's scared of."
The Cats will have a chance to start anew Saturday at Tennessee and make a name for their defense without Noel.
"Again, were the defensive numbers all based on Nerlens?" Calipari said. "We'll we're going to find out, 'cause our defensive numbers weren't the issue. We were turning it over, no aggressive play."
Calipari wants insurance options
Noel's injury likely won't end his career. If it had, he would have been covered by an NCAA insurance policy.
Noel is covered by the NCAA-sponsored Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program, which allows approved student-athletes in select sports to protect against the loss of future earnings from a "disabling injury" during their college career, according to the NCAA website.
The policy doesn't cover potential loss of earnings from situations other than those that end a student-athlete's career.
The program stipulates that a student-athlete must takes out an initial loan, to be repaid upon signing a professional contract or the coverage is no longer in effect.
Calipari advocated changing the system to allow for schools or the NCAA to cover costs for student-athletes.
"It's just disappointing that we don't take care of that, so he can be fully insured, and then if the kids want to take out insurance for draft position, let them take a loan and do it," Calipari said. "Why (not)? 'Well, only rich kids can do that.' Have we told the president this yet? I mean, I just don't get some of the stuff, and this is one of them."
Calipari wrote in his website earlier this week that "five or six" of his players are insured under this program every year. In men's basketball, players must be determined to have first-round draft potential to be eligible.
"They donít have to get the insurance," Calipari wrote, "but we talk to some of the guys about why they should consider it and then let them make up their mind from there."