Nuggets' Hodge shot and wounded on highway

DENVER -- Denver Nuggets rookie guard Julius Hodge was shot
and wounded early Saturday while driving on a highway after
visiting a nightclub but is expected to make a full recovery,
officials said.

Sheriff's deputies said the 22-year-old player was struck in his
lower body. The team said he was in fair condition.

Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr said Hodge had visited a musician
friend who worked at the Paladium club, a disco, but the motive for
the shooting wasn't known and no suspects were in custody.

``We don't have any information or indication now that there was
an altercation earlier,'' said Darr. He said it was too soon to say
whether the shooting was random.

Nuggets coach George Karl said he believes Hodge was hit three
times in his legs.

"The preliminary reports are that he's going to be fine. He
should be able to play again in two to three weeks," Karl said.

Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said Hodge was in good
spirits when the two talked.

"He's obviously a little shaken up, but he's doing fine,"
Vandeweghe said.

Hodge was on Interstate 76 in north Denver at about 2 a.m. when
another vehicle pulled alongside and someone inside fired several
shots, Adams County Sheriff's Sgt. Louis Dixon said. A passenger in
Hodge's vehicle flagged down another motorist, who took Hodge and
the passenger to the hospital.

Darr said Hodge's passenger was "mildly injured." Darr would
not identify the hospital.

Witnesses told investigators two people may have been in the
shooter's car.

Dixon said investigators don't know the name of the motorist who
stopped and are hoping that motorist and any other witnesses come

Dixon said Hodge's passenger has been interviewed and is not a
suspect. He declined to release the passenger's name and would not
say what kind of vehicle Hodge was driving, but Paladium manager
Jose Ramirez said he thought it was a black or navy BMW 7-series.

Ramirez said Hodge and Santana both arrived at the club around
11 p.m. and that Hodge spent most of his time with Santana, even
getting on stage.

"I've checked with every one of my security guys and no one saw
him arguing with anyone," Ramirez said. He said Hodge left around
1:45 a.m.

"Apparently Julius did nothing to provoke this at all,"
Vandeweghe said.

The mood was somber at a Nuggets shoot-around before Saturday
night's game against Golden State in Denver.

"There was a bit of trauma hitting us this morning. We were
really solemn, crying," Karl said. "Right now we are just happy
that everything is OK."

Forward Reggie Evans said the players learned of the shooting
when they arrived at the Pepsi Center for the shoot-around. No
other Nuggets were at the club with Hodge, Darr said.

"I'm shocked, really shocked," Evans said. "It's crazy,
really crazy."

Hodge was Denver's first-round draft choice in 2005 out of North
Carolina State. The 6-foot-7 guard was recalled from the NBA's
developmental league last month after Earl Boykins broke his hand.
He has appeared in 14 games for the Nuggets this season, averaging
0.9 points in 2.4 minutes.

"He's a good guy, a good kid," Karl said. "I think he has
taken being the bottom man on the totem pole real well. He wanted
to go down to Austin, and most rookies don't want to be demoted,
but he wanted to go play, and I respect that. In general he's
gotten better. His season will be the summer league, and he is
ambitious, he will be ready to play next year."

At Austin, Hodge has averaged 17.7 points and 5.6 rebounds.

The incident is the latest in a long list of setbacks that have
whittled away at the Nuggets since their opener, when forward Nene
tore his right anterior cruciate ligament. Kenyon Martin (knee),
Marcus Camby (back), Eduardo Najera (ankle) and Boykins are all
dealing with nagging injuries that have either sidelined them or
limited their availability.

Still, the Nuggets were closing in on their first Northwest
Division title since 1987-88.

"We have been dealing with injury all year long and our
perseverance is our personality," Karl said. "This is something
we have to persevere through, and we only have maybe eight or nine
bodies healthy for practice, and that will limit us in how much we
really go at practice."

Vandeweghe said he was certain the team would be affected by
Hodge's shooting.

"It's obviously tough because Julius is a very, very popular
player and extremely well-liked and really one of the good guys."

Asked if he knew whether the team would get a roster exemption
for Hodge, Vandeweghe said that wasn't his main concern.

"The forefront, obviously, is to make sure Julius is fine,
which he is. And then to cooperate with the police in finding out
who would do something like this."