User ID: Password:

February 11, 2010

FROM SMALL TOWN TO BIG TIME - Dorenzo Hudson came from a small town and his career got off to a slow start, but a 41-point game has sparked a breakout season

By: Jimmy Robertson

Dorenzo Hudson

His bio in the Virginia Tech men’s basketball guide lists his birthplace as Marshville, N.C., and, on the surface, that town sounds like just about any other wholesome municipality in the deep South.

Yet despite being a starter for the Hokies in the ACC – and despite having one of the greatest all-time games in school history – Dorenzo Hudson is not the most famous native of this hamlet of roughly 2,500 citizens about a long 3-pointer away from Charlotte.

You see, Randy Travis calls Marshville home, too, and everyone knows Randy Travis, a country music superstar who overcame a rough childhood and a series of addictions to croon out 16 No. 1 hits. The list of awards and honors for this born-again Christian would fill an entire page and then some.

Hudson may never achieve that type of fame, but this young man has played some sweet music of his own on the basketball court this season.

In a way, that comes as no surprise. Hudson grew up on basketball. He was practically palming a ball in the crib and launching jumpers as a toddler.

He had little choice. Basketball is a family tradition. It wasn’t a hobby for his family and it wasn’t something you idly did to pass the time.

In his family, you committed yourself to being good at it because it provided you with opportunities – ones you might not have been afforded otherwise.

So at a young age, Dorenzo Hudson committed himself to basketball. Everything he’s done in this life has placed him in this moment.

Sleepy Marshville, mostly an agricultural community, offers a relaxing lifestyle. In fact, the pace in this town resembles Princeton’s offense.

Sports plays a major role within the community and Hudson got started at a very young age. He speculates that he started playing basketball in about the third or fourth grade, and he got some rather strong guidance on the finer points of the game from his uncles, who all lived nearby.

“Basketball was a family thing,” Hudson said. “Everyone who stayed in the house played basketball – uncles and aunts and such. It was a family tradition. I looked up to my uncles. They played ball and I went to a lot of their games.”

It was easy for him to look up to his uncles because a couple of them played small-college basketball at places like Livingstone and Fayetteville State.

The uncle who made the most impact on Hudson’s life was Rick Taylor, who was one of those small-college standouts. Taylor served as role model for Hudson mainly because Hudson’s father wasn’t in the picture that often.

Taylor and other uncles took Hudson to camps at a young age and toted him back and forth to AAU practices. As a result, he morphed into a fine player and a potential prospect.

To keep himself focused on his potential, Hudson decided to move in with Taylor, who lived nearby. He left behind his mother, Marie Allen, and three younger sisters (he also has an older brother).

“I stayed with my mom up to high school and then I switched during high school,” Hudson said. “My father wasn’t always there and my mom was focusing on my three younger sisters. My uncle would take me to a lot of camps and stuff like that. He was a great male figure to have around.

“It wasn’t like my home situation was tough. It wasn’t tough at all. I just decided I wanted to do something else. So I moved in with my uncle.”

Taylor wasn’t a stranger to having relatives live with him – his younger brother had done the same thing. So he gladly welcomed Hudson into the home.

“He’s my nephew, but he’s like a son to me,” Taylor said. “My sister [Hudson’s mother] and I are close and we thought this was the way we needed to do things. We wanted Dorenzo to have success, and me, having played college basketball, I knew how everything worked. It wasn’t that his parents couldn’t help him, but I had the knowledge.

“It was, like, he needed to do ‘this’ athletically and ‘this’ academically – these are the things he needed to do to reach his goals. I wanted to make it happen for him. It’s like the saying, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ I felt it was my duty to help him.”

Hudson went on to become a terrific high school player at Forest Hills High School. He averaged 21 points per game his sophomore season, and the next season, he earned a spot on the prestigious All-Observer team by the Charlotte Observer.

But Taylor felt Hudson needed to face some better competition. He felt Hudson had peaked as a player going up against the high school crop. Already at 6-foot-5 and weighing more than 200 pounds, Hudson dominated the prep level from a physical standpoint and Taylor saw nothing to be gained from having his nephew face underwhelming foes.

He concluded that Hudson needed to go to a prep school to be challenged.

“I felt he had peaked,” Taylor said. “I thought it would be good for him to go to a prep school for academics and for the competition. I was also worried about other kids targeting him. Kids get jealous and I didn’t want them targeting him on the court and him to get injured.

“There were a lot of things that prompted it [the decision]. I felt it was time for him to go on.”

So with the help of Taylor, Hudson researched prep schools – and settled on one of the toughest, and best, in Hargrave Military Academy.

A slogan at Hargrave reads as follows: “Help your young man achieve his full potential.”

The academy certainly does a wonderful job at that, as most folks familiar with Tech athletics know. After all, the prep school there serves as somewhat of a pipeline to Blacksburg, with many young men having made the trek.

But life at Hargrave isn’t easy. It’s actually more surviving than living.

It calls for wearing a uniform and waking up at 6 every morning. Students follow a strict schedule and take challenging college preparatory courses. Free time gets spent studying – not calling or texting friends or watching The Office.

So Hudson had to do some adjusting – and quickly – when he enrolled in August of 2006.

“It was very tough,” Hudson said. “You had to wake up at 6 every morning and you always had someone telling you where to be at a certain time.

“The toughest part was being away from home. No doubt, that was the toughest part. And you go in not knowing whom you’re going to be staying with. You don’t really know anyone. You have to make new friends. That all was tough.”

Hudson, though, settled in, thanks largely to basketball. First, he chose a college, deciding to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, current teammate JT Thompson. Thompson’s father and Hudson’s mother are siblings, and after Thompson made his decision to come to Tech, he found himself being followed by a close relative and closer friend. Both signed with Seth Greenberg in the fall of 2006.

“JT was coming and we wanted to play together,” Hudson said. “Once he decided to come, it was a no-brainer. I took some visits just because I was at Hargrave and wanted to get away. But all along, I knew what I was going to do. I just took the visits to get away from campus.”

While at Hargrave, Hudson teamed with a familiar name to Tech fans – current Hokie Jeff Allen – to lead Hargrave to a 22-5 record, averaging in double figures along the way. Hargrave made it to the national prep school finals that season.

Hudson started on a team that featured 12 Division-I signees. So he not only played against the competition his uncle so desperately wanted him to face on a game-by-game basis, but he also faced it every day in practice.

“Day in and day out, you had to bring your ‘A’ game,” Hudson said. “Not just for games, but for practice. Someone was always coming at you, trying to prove that they were better than you. Competition during practices was very challenging.”

Once basketball season ended, he found himself wanting to roll back to Marshville. Making matters worse, he had to stay at Hargrave over that summer to finish up some coursework to get to Tech.

But he survived.

“There were times that I didn’t want to be there, but I knew I had to stick it out,” he said. “That’s where my uncle and mom came into play. They knew it was best for me to get my name out there. When basketball season was over, it was tough because there was nothing else to do. But I was able to stick it out.”

Dorenzo Hudson has been more aggressive on the offensive end this season for Tech and is putting up the best numbers of his career.
Hudson’s career at Tech was a little off key at the beginning. He didn’t finish his coursework in time to apply for the fall semester in 2007, meaning he couldn’t join the team until after the semester – around the middle of December.

He missed Tech’s first seven games and never got into any kind of flow with the Hokies. He averaged 3.5 points per game and shot just 35.6 percent from the floor as a freshman.

“If I had to do it over again,” he said. “I would have redshirted.”

He figured to be in tune his sophomore season, but suffered again from bouts of inconsistency. He scored in double figures just twice and averaged only 4.6 points per game despite starting 24 of the 34 games he played.

“It’s been up and down,” the junior admitted of his career. “I’m trying to keep it steady and keep it going higher instead of up and down. I want to keep things going on a consistent level.

“I think it’s more me. It’s just a confidence level. Sometimes, I feel like Coach is going to get down on me and sometimes I might make bad plays or not make the plays I should. These are all mental things.”

Hudson, though, showed signs of breaking out at the end of last season. For starters, he played tremendous defense – he shut down Miami’s Jack McClinton on a couple of occasions and he performed grittily against North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington. Then he came up with a career-high 15 points in the Hokies’ double overtime win over Duquesne in the NIT.

This season, he started out a little slowly – but the Marshville native has been making music that would brings smiles to Randy Travis’ face.

It started with a career-high 24 points against VMI. That started a streak in which he scored in double figures in three of the next four games heading into a game against Seton Hall in Cancun.

Then he choreographed a No. 1 hit.

With leading scorer Malcolm Delaney out because of a sprained ankle, Hudson took over and dominated the game, scoring a career-high 41 points. He hit 20 of his 21 free-throw attempts, tying a Tech record for free throws made in a game. His 41 points marked the eighth-best scoring performance in Tech history.

“It’s a big confidence booster,” Hudson said. “Forty-one points is very hard to come by. I felt like I was really focused. I wanted to have a good game and my teammates supported me. At the end of the day, I didn’t really think I had 41. To get 41 and the win, that’s always good.”

“That was like a weight off his shoulders,” Taylor said. “I know he had been maligned a little and that was weighing on me. That was hurting me because I knew what he was capable of and I just couldn’t figure it out.

“That game brought joy to the whole family, but I’m not shocked that he did that. I’ve seen it happen before. I think he’s only scratched the surface of his scoring potential.”

He achieved another career first on Jan. 23 when he hit a game-winning shot against BC with five seconds left. He bailed out the Hokies with 18 points in a 63-62 win.

Hudson is now playing with consistency. He scored in double figures in 12 games out of a recent 14-game stretch and is averaging in double figures for the first time in his career. His shooting percentage is also above 40 percent for the first time in his career.

“It’s being aggressive,” he said. “You can’t make shots if you don’t shoot shots. I feel like I need to get shots up during a game. You’ve got to take them to put up numbers like that. I think my team needs me to score in double figures.”

“Now he knows he belongs,” Taylor said. “He’s starting to figure it out. You’re starting to see different facets of his game and I think he’ll continue to evolve and help the team.”

Taylor expected this. After all, he molded Hudson as a young man, teaching him and motivating him. He even whipped him in pick-up games to keep the kid humble.

“I destroyed him,” Taylor laughed. “He has amnesia now – and he’s too much for me to handle now.”

Following that Seton Hall game, Hudson received tons of texts, calls and e-mails from his friends and family back in Marshville.

In looking at it, he may not be on the level of Randy Travis. But it certainly appears the young man is starting to make a name for himself.