Before the sun rises most days, Air Force Reserve Capt. Antoine Hood can be found in the gym, practicing his basketball game and dreaming of the day he finally makes it in the National Basketball Association.
But Hood's hoop dreams aren't entirely fantasies. He's come tantalizingly close so many times. While attending the Air Force Academy, Hood helped take the Falcons to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament twice before falling in the first round to North Carolina's Tar Heels in 2004 and the Fighting Illini of Illinois in 2006.
He was recruited by the Denver Nuggets after graduating in 2006, worked out with them during their training camp, and played in three preseason games that year before being cut. He was offered a contract with the San Antonio Spurs the next year, but had to pass it up to fulfill his Air Force service commitment.
Since then, Hood's spent time playing basketball in the NBA Development League — its official minor league organization — and for pro teams in the Czech Republic, Venezuela and Canada in between his Reserve duty. He flirted with the Spurs once again before being cut. And even though he turns 32 this month, Hood isn't planning to give up trying for the NBA.
An upcoming feature-length documentary directed by Hood's childhood friend John Ryan Johnson, called "Anatomy of an American Dream," seeks to tell his story. Johnson, who in May graduated from New York University's film school, has been filming Hood since 2011, and is in post-production on the film. He expects it will be finished early next year, and hopes to try to get it in such film festivals as Sundance and South by Southwest.
But does Hood really have a shot?
He certainly thinks so. Hood doesn't think he's lost a step since his college days, and said he's taken care of his body and avoided injuries that can compromise a player's game. He's focused on learning strategy, such as where to pick the best spots to make shots, and said he spends his nights dissecting film of legendary basketball stars and using that footage to help plan his workouts the next morning.
Hood pointed out that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant only got better as they matured and refined their game — though he quickly added that he's not comparing his skills with theirs.
"I think [my chances] are high," Hood said. "I'm crazy enough to believe this long. Age is almost kind of irrelevant. I feel I'm probably in the best shape, and the most explosive I've been probably my entire career."
Dribbling in elementary school
Hood started playing basketball in elementary school. He said he was a tall kid early on and started out as a center. But when his growth spurts slowed down — Hood topped out at 6'4" — he developed the skills to become a guard.
He was recruited to play basketball at the Air Force Academy, and at first he thought he wanted to fly helicopters, but realized he didn't have the passion to stay with flying. He began to hope for an NBA career, but also decided to stick with the Academy.
When asked to describe playing in his first NCAA tournament game, Hood said, "Phenomenal. The energy from that stage, it was definitely unforgettable."
Hood said he had something of a chip on his shoulder during that game. He felt he and his teammates had been underestimated by players from better-known teams — opponents who didn't have to get up at 5 in the morning to clean bathrooms and fulfill their other military duties as part of their rigorous academy schedule, on top of classes and practices.
"I wore that as a badge of a true student-athlete," Hood said. "When I realized that [Tar Heel stars] Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton and Sean May and the rest of those guys, they bleed just like I bleed, and they're not better than me. I wanted to prove that. And when I hit back-to-back threes and got a steal from Felton, that's when it really ... it just solidifies the internal confidence. I wasn't afraid to say that I could compete and actually be better than those guys."
But it wasn't enough. Though Hood scored 15 points and got four rebounds against North Carolina that day, the Falcons fell, 63-52. And two years later, they lost again in the first round to Illinois, 78-69. Hood is the ninth-highest scoring men's basketball player in Academy history, with 1,307 points.
Trying out with the pros
After graduating in 2006 and trying out for the Nuggets, he said he was the last person cut. The following year, he was on the road from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama — he became a personnel officer in the Air Force — when he got a call from his agent about the contract offer from the Spurs.
Hood said his commanding officer, now-retired Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, was "blown away" when he heard about the NBA's offer, and tried to get the Air Force to work something out that would allow Hood to play, but it didn't happen. In December 2009, Hood switched into the reserves through the Palace Chase program.
Hood moved to North Carolina in 2010 and started selling tires for Michelin as an area sales manager. He got an agent who started trying to open the doors to the NBA, and in the meantime, played for three or four months in the Czech Republic's pro league that year. He had a workout with the Miami Heat that didn't go anywhere, and then in 2011 was invited to come to the Spurs' training camp again. But once again, he said he was the last one cut.
He traveled to play pro ball in Venezuela, for the Gaiteros del Zulia in the city of Maracaibo. But that team was poorly run, he said — their pay was late and living conditions were bad — so he only lasted a month before returning to the United States. Hood was without an agent and couldn't get another basketball job until 2013, when he returned to the Development League and played for the Idaho Stampede.
But in January 2014, the Stampede cut him.
Full-time reservist — for now
These days, Hood is a full-time reservist at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Hood said he's been offered jobs as an assistant coach or in the front office by a few NBA teams, and some college teams as well, but has turned them down.
"I feel like, if I'm good enough to coach in your organization, I would think I'm good enough to play," Hood said.
Hood thinks it's a matter of finding the right agent and getting the right break, but he knows his time is running out.
"I could sit behind a desk until I'm 80, 90 years old," Hood said. "But to run up and down and play at the highest level in the world? There's a window to that."
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.