Nuggets’ Hodge shot, expected to recover


DENVER (AP) – 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 visited the Paladium club, where hip-hop artist Juelz Santana performed Friday night, 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,” Darr said. 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.

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 forward.

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 the Nuggets’ shootaround 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.”

Associated Press Writers Robert Weller and Megan McCloskey contributed to this report.

AP-ES-04-08-06 2327EDT