RHS one-handed player among best in basketball
Sophomore Zach Hodskins on college recruiting radar, inspiring to others
By CAROL STUART
Brentwood Home Page
Ravenwood’s Zach Hodskins is one of the best sophomore basketball players in Williamson County, and one of the main reasons is because he works so hard at the game he loves so much. Even just after arriving at the beach last week on a family vacation before Christmas, Zach was looking for a gym so he could practice hoops.
Zach has aspirations of playing college basketball and with his pure shooting skill, his drive to improve on every aspect of his game, and his incredible work ethic, he’s well on his way, his coach says. And after watching Hodskins play, what most people find even more amazing with his basketball talent is that he was born with only one hand.
“I think the thing that sets Zach apart from other basketball players is his passion for the game,” said Patrick Whitlock, Raptors boys basketball coach. “If I don't see him in the gym, I hear stories of him being in a gym year-round, and he plays AAU. I'm under the impression that every second outside of Ravenwood – outside of our practice or school – he is working on his game. And it's probably pretty true.”
Ravenwood sophomore Zach Hodskins has a pure shooting motion. (Photos by Peg Fredi for BHP)
– Raptors coach Patrick Whitlock
And it’s not just shooting, where Zach has one of the most fundamentally sound shots. He spends hours practicing driving with the ball, rebounding, and also catching off-target passes he asks his father to throw.
“He wants to be the best on that court,” said his dad, Bob Hodskins.
When Zach was younger, his father remembers having to bring him in and bandage his fingers on his right hand because “I kid you not … his fingertips would all be bleeding” from practicing so much.
“He'd work so hard at dribbling and shooting, and that's not something he was born with. He's learned to overcome anything on the basketball court,” his dad said. “If you watch him play a full game in AAU, when they trap and press, he doesn't flinch – it doesn't bother him at all.”
This season Zach has already worked his way into being the first player off the bench for Ravenwood in recent games, averaging about 10 minutes on varsity in addition to starring in JV. He also plays on a big-time AAU team, was once the MVP out of 300-400 players at Tubby Smith’s University of Kentucky camp, and was named Best Offensive Player the next year.
Hodskins also made the Top 20 and Top 40 of some basketball camps this summer (along with mostly juniors and seniors), earning him recruiting write-ups such as this from Hoopniks.com on the Future 150 Nashville camp:
The 6-foot-3 inch SG shot the ball consistently from mid and long range all weekend long. He handles the ball extremely well and has good court vision when attacking the basket. He made some “WOW” passes that left his fellow campers impressed. He was probably the most fundamental player in the entire camp and has a high basketball IQ. Hodskin’s was deadly from the 3-point range which made him a tough guard.
“He's been a privilege to coach because he is so passionate about basketball,” Whitlock said. “The fact that he's got only one arm has never come into play, he doesn't want it to come into play, he's wants to be treated like everybody else and he is.
“Nobody on our team sees it that way, and if anyone that we play against was to underestimate him, I think it'll be a very, very long afternoon for them. I think his best basketball is ahead of him.”
From baseball and surfing to tremendous shooter in basketball
Zach credits his father, a former college baseball player at Kentucky Wesleyan, for helping him adapt ways to play both baseball (which he played until seventh grade) and basketball.
“My dad taught me how to do all that,” Zach said. “I guess he realized since I was little that I could play sports for sure, but he was going to have to think of a way to show me how to do it.”
But Bob Hodskins sees it a different way: “I didn't bring a whole lot to it; he's figured it out himself. Whatever worked for him, we went with it. In the first year he had his glove, where he was old enough at 6 or 7, he learned to tuck it under his arm and throw the pitch. … He taught himself.
“And as a dad, his desire and work ethic and passion is off the charts. I've never seen anything like it. I mean everyday all day wanting to throw, play pitch and catch, or shoot. I was just the guy that threw with him and rebounded for him.”
– Bob Hodskins, Zach's dad
The Hodskins family, whose daughter Logan is a senior starter on the Lady Raptors basketball team, lived on Hilton Head Island, S.C., before moving to Brentwood prior to Zach’s sixth-grade year at Woodland Middle. He won his age group in a decathlon and also surfed and skimboarded at Hilton Head.
“He is an excellent skimboarder,” mom Stephanie Hodskins said. “He started surfing right before we moved, and I really feel like if we had stayed there he probably would have taken that on. But we love to watch him skimboard. He actually wanted to do some competitions but obviously they don't have that in Nashville.”
In baseball, Zach mostly played first base initially but could scoop up anything with his glove and also played leadoff hitter on three all-star teams, smacking the ball with his right arm as a left-handed batter and using his speed to beat throws, his dad said. He also began pitching later and threw really hard, bringing to mind former Olympic and major league pitcher Jim Abbott.
“His heart and his desire to accomplish everything is unbelievable,” Bob Hodskins said.
Zach also played soccer when he was younger, but began playing basketball in a rec league in third or fourth grade – then switched to hoops entirely.
“I've always had a bunch of coaches, like my old AAU coach and other high school teams, call me and tell me to come to their practice and show kids how to shoot, and show them that you don't need to use your left arm to shoot,” Zach said about his picture-perfect shot.
“They say that my shot is more fundamental than kids with two hands because they use their left hand too much to guide their shot.”
AAU coaches from Atlanta and other tournaments – people who have long taught shooting skills – have asked to get video of Zach to take back to their players for shooting tips and clinics, his dad said.
“I started noticing I was a shooter because my dad at a young age taught me to just catch and shoot because he didn't think I'd be able to go to the hole as much, which was true,” Zach said. “So he just taught me how to catch and shoot from deep. But now I learned how to drive.”
Bob Hodskins said by necessity Zach had “to get into perfect form every time he lets the ball go” and that’s what made him a tremendous shooter.
“I think the first time I saw Zach he was probably in sixth grade, his sister was maybe a freshman and he was shooting at halftime, and I was kind of blown away at his fundamentals of shooting,” Whitlock said.
The RHS coach says other kids also can develop a pure shooting touch if they put in enough time: “His shot is a creation of him just working hard. … I just thinks it’s repetition and him just wanting to be great.”
Zach says he may get looks from other teams at first, but then they treat him like any other player once he’s on the floor. After games, parents – especially on the AAU circuit, where he averages 20-25 points – often stop him and tell them how inspiring he is. When he was younger, some would even be in tears, his dad said.
“My dad's talked about it before that like I've got to keep a good attitude on the court because a lot of people are inspired by me,” Hodskins said.
His dad said Zach has accepted that role and responsibility well: “He's really taken it to heart. He knows people look at him and watch him a lot. … He has done a great job talking to people and shaking people's hands."
'Word is out on the street about how good a player he is'
Hodskins is determined to play at the college level, and notes that 6-foot-11 Kevin Laue is a one-handed player currently competing in Division I for Manhattan. Hodskins has also recently been inspired by Brentwood resident Roger Greenup, a one-handed national seniors doubles tennis champ who played high school basketball and baseball in West Tennessee.
Whitlock said he thinks Hodskins is on the path to playing at the college level.
“He's one of the best shooters I have been fortunate enough to coach,” Whitlock said. “I always tell kids if they want to continue to play at the highest level that they have to be really good at something. He's a really, really good shooter. Just like any other kid, he'll have to get used to the speed of the game in college and things like that.”
Whitlock said he doesn’t think Hodskins gets tired of people noticing he’s a one-handed player “because I think the word is out on the street of how good a player he is.”
“There's never a moment when I've ever heard him say I can't do that . . . He is just so driven in everything he does.”
– Stephanie Hodskins, Zach's mom
While coaching an AAU team a few years ago against Hodskins’ squad, a Sunset Middle player from Whitlock’s team gathered his teammates together and told them how good Zach was.
“He wanted to guard Zach because he respected him,” Whitlock said. “And Zach put about 30 points on us. … I thought our team was much better than them, but they beat us and Zach was the reason they beat us.”
Ravenwood usually doesn’t play sophomores and Hodskins is the youngest on varsity, but he worked his way ahead of some juniors. He sometimes is brought in as a zone-buster to shoot 3-pointers. “We can put him out there and it's probably not a very smart idea to zone us for very long in the game,” Whitlock said.
Zach’s father said his son doesn’t want to be known as just a “spot-up shooter,” though. “It's the catching – you throw the long pass and he turns his arm sideways and catches that ball – that’s really to me the most amazing thing,” Bob said.
“Recently for sure my dad and I've been working on going left and moves to the hole – I guess I need to work on that more than others,” Zach said. “But anything else like just shooting or dribbling practice I can do just like anybody else.”
Another thing Zach has going for him is that he’s gone in height from 5-10 or 5-11 his last year at Woodland to nearly 6-3 now. He’s still growing and wears a size 13 shoe.
“When somebody tried to label him (a spot-up shooter), he learned going to the gym and shooting 500 shots is good, but ‘I'm going to work on crossover and spin moves and getting to the rim,’ ” Bob Hodskins said. “He went from 5-10 to 6-2½ . . . now he can get to the rim and finish strong against anybody.”
His size has also helped him reverse his fortune in driveway competitions with his sister Logan, a post player who has always been older and until recently taller. (“I try not to go too hard on her,” he jokes.)
Logan, a top 10 student at RHS who plans to study pre-med, doesn’t like to admit he wins now but said he’s bigger – plus probably works harder than she does in basketball.
“I think it's just all the work he puts into it and how much effort, all his effort he puts into the game,” Logan said of Zach’s success. “I know that some people probably don't work at it as hard as he does. He works the hardest I think.”
His sister said Zach asks her or their parents to drive him to the Brentwood YMCA to practice every weekend, and would go every day if he didn’t have homework.
– Logan Hodskins, Zach's sister and RHS senior basketball player,while in Florida last week
“We're down here on vacation, and he's already asking where the basketball courts are,” Logan said from Florida.
The whole family is really enjoying Logan and Zach both playing the same schedule this basketball season, and the brother and sister are bonding over riding to school and from practices home together too.
“I think it's pretty cool that my sister and I are playing varsity basketball at the same school at the same time,” Zach said. And Logan said she’ll miss seeing him and his games when she goes to college.
Zach’s dad says sometimes they have to “back him down” from basketball a little for involvement in church and other activities.
“He never complains, there's never a moment when I've ever heard him say I can't do that,” said Stephanie, his mom. “He is just so driven in everything he does. I mean he loves basketball, but he's also really concentrating on his grades. . . . He's just an inspiration to us.”
As a baby, Zach already was doing things that were amazing to his parents and when he started playing sports “there was nothing he couldn't overcome,” his dad said. Bob Hodskins was also puzzled how his son might tie his own shoestrings, but Zach figured it out at a young age.
“The thing about Zach is he's never wanted to just overcome, he's wanted to excel,” his father said.
While Zach said he uses humor to help cope sometimes, the RHS sophomore said it’s something he knows people are always going to talk about and it’s something he has to deal with.
“He realizes God has blessed him a lot,” Bob Hodskins said. “Maybe he didn't give him a left hand, but I think maybe God has made it up to him in the heart.”