Wolfpack junior loves attention

Updated: October 23, 2003, 2:09 PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- No player in the Atlantic Coast Conference is better equipped to handle attention than Julius Hodge.

And the North Carolina State junior is soaking up his preseason hype like a sponge.

Hodge's face is plastered on the cover of numerous college basketball publications in ACC country and he's a near unanimous pick to be the league's player of the year.

"Even though that would be a great honor I'm always looking for more," the 6-foot-7 guard said Wednesday. "How about national player of the year? I think that's a pretty good goal.

"I know a lot of guys, even from this conference, who were preseason All-Americans or this or that and they didn't finish it off or play the way they were supposed to," he added. "I have to live up to the expectations."

Coach Herb Sendek has talked with his flashy star from the Bronx about keeping focused during the season.

"It's difficult to handle adversity, but sometimes it's even more challenging to handle success," Sendek said. "I think Julius is still a very goal-oriented, driven person. I don't think he has any sense of arrival.

"But at the same time he's fully aware that he's one of the better players in college basketball and he thrives on that confidence. When he came through the door he had great self-esteem. He's always had that aura of confidence most champions have."

After averaging 17.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in an all-ACC season, Hodge didn't sit still in the offseason. He gained 15 pounds of muscle and worked on his mid-range jump shot and creating off the dribble.

"I know my jump shot is something I had to work on so you guys won't be able to call me that skinny, brash, New Yorker with a flat jump shot," Hodge said.

Hodge, a gym rat, still has the key to the N.C. State practice facility. However, he has backed off some of his shooting rituals.

"I've gotten a lot more mature working on my game," he said. "Before I was always thinking about quantity and I had to get up 1,000 shots a day. Now it's a lot more quality. I'm working on my mechanics more."

While Hodge's scoring average jumped seven points from his freshman year, his reputation didn't improve much across the league one season after a suspension for elbowing Maryland point guard Steve Blake.

Hodge doesn't mind being booed in opposing arenas and said he won't be changing his attitude on the court one bit.

"That's not the way I live, I live with no regrets," Hodge said. "When I'm on the basketball court I'm having fun and I'm emotional. As long as our fans continue to embrace it and my teammates continue to pat me on my butt that's what I'm going to continue to do."

"He's crazy out there," teammate Ilian Evtimov said. "His emotions reflect how much he cares about the game."

When he arrived at N.C. State, Hodge said he would play college ball for four years. He deflected a question Wednesday about his future with the Wolfpack following the 2003-04 season.

"Right now my focus is on this season and helping this team win," he said. "You can't live your life with one foot inside the door and one foot outside the door."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index