After every game Magic reserve point guard Troy Hudson grabs a small bottle from a bag in his locker and dabs his forehead with anointing oil from a Pentecostal minister. His teammates jokingly call the oil the secret to his success, and following Hudson's 34-point outburst during a 119-114 overtime win over the Suns last week, it's suddenly in great demand. "We've all started to use the stuff," says 33-year-old starting point guard Darrell Armstrong. "I mean, compare the Troy Hudson you saw last year to the one you're seeing today. Something's gotten into him."
Troy Hudson today is one of the NBA's most explosive reserves, averaging 10.8 points and 2.9 assists through Sunday, while shooting a league-high 90.3% from the free throw line. Seven times he had scored 20 or more points, including those career-high 34 on March 13, his 26th birthday. With his quick release and darting defense, the 6'1" Hudson reminds Orlando coach Doc Rivers of Allen Iverson. "Grant [Hill] is out, and Darrell's no spring chicken," says Rivers. "Troy gives energy to our offense."
A year ago Hudson and the Magic mixed like oil and water. He had gone undrafted as a junior out of Southern Illinois in 1997, kicked around the CBA, played eight games for the Jazz and spent parts of two years on the Clippers' bench. Before the 2000-01 season he signed a two-year, $1.1 million deal with the Magic. But Rivers needed a backup point guard who would pass first, and Hudson, a natural scorer, never adjusted to that role. He lost his confidence and his touch, hitting only 33.6% of his attempts. "It got to the point where I was thinking, Man, I do not want to be out here," recalls Hudson. "It was totally mental. I was a shooter, and I couldn't shoot a lick."
Disgusted, Hudson spent two months after the season thinking about everything but basketball, even refusing to lift a weight or jog. He expressed his feelings through rap, which he had started writing on napkins and Wendy's bags six years earlier. Holed up in the studio in his Orlando house, Hudson started to record material drawn from his upbringing in Carbondale, Ill., and his ups and downs as a pro. "A lot of guys write about things like jewelry and cars," says Hudson, who has completed his album and is looking for a distributor. "I like to write about things people go through."
After using rap to return to his roots, Hudson set out to rediscover basics on the court as well. "I got back into it the way I got in it," he says, "by shooting a ton of baskets on the playground." In a meeting before Orlando's first preseason practice Rivers said three words to Hudson that sounded better than any rap riff: Play your game. Following the model of former Piston Vinnie (the Microwave) Johnson, an undersized third guard who was an incendiary scorer, Rivers let Hudson loose. His production off the bench has been vital for offensive-minded Orlando, which stood fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff race. "I'm getting my shots and earning the trust of my teammates again," says Hudson. "Last year, playing was just a job. Now I can't wait for the next game."
In the meantime he'll be on the lookout for a care package from Carbondale, where his grandmother obtains the bottles of olive oil from her minister. The Magic can only hope Hudson's renewed spirit continues to rub off.