HARRISONBURG, VA., NOV. 29 -- Being the most acclaimed player to put on a James Madison basketball uniform sits very well with Steve Hood. The preseason press clippings and high expectations surrounding the slender, 6-foot-7 guard are a welcomed experience.

It also is an unprecedented one, here at a school that has doesn't have much of a basketball tradition and never has had so much praise heaped upon one of its short-trousered athletes.

"I really like all those things," said Hood, who was rated as the fourth-best shooting guard in the country by one publication. "In high school {DeMatha}, I started out slow and I didn't really get the accolades that I deserved until the end of my senior year.

"And now I'm going in to my senior year getting a lot of publicity. And that makes me really feel good. It makes me feel like the work that I did really paid off for me."

Last season's performance -- Colonial Athletic Association player of the year, league-leading 22-point scoring average, CAA-tournament record 91 points -- didn't damage his reputation. James Madison finished 20-11.

"This year, I've set my expectations even higher," he said. Included on the stated wish list of the New Carrollton, Md., native are being named all-American and being a first-round NBA draft pick.

Only two former Madison players have played in the NBA -- Linton Townes (Portland, Cleveland) and Kennard Winchester (currently with Houston) -- and neither were taken in the first round. Despite transferring from a higher-profile program at Maryland two years ago to the relative obscurity of the CAA, Hood plans to be the first.

"I think the exposure I'm getting here is pretty good," Hood said. "The fact that Lefty Driesell is here makes for a lot of exposure itself. He's so charismatic that everyone wants to watch him, so they're going to start to watch JMU. And that's going to bring a lot of attention to the players."

Besides two appearances on national television last season, Hood made the most of Madison's schedule by scoring 32 points against North Carolina in the Maui Classic, 24 at Florida and 36 at Oklahoma.

He scored 16 Wednesday in a 91-89 loss to Virginia Tech, and Driesell is cautioning his star about looking past the current season.

"That might be a detriment to him," Driesell said. "I've seen that happen too many times -- players of mine that wanted to be high NBA draft picks and then they end up having a bad year because they put too much pressure on themselves."

Ambition inspires dedication. This summer Hood competed in the Goodwill Games trials and led a CAA all-star squad that included George Mason's Byron Tucker, American's Brock Wortman and Navy's Sam Cook on a six-game tour against teams in Yugoslavia. ("The best part of that trip was coming home," Hood said.)

He also lifted weights four times a week, adding 10 pounds to his now-180-pound frame.

Madison, which hasn't made an NCAA tournament appearance since 1983, should benefit from the addition of 6-8 center Chancellor Nichols -- a transfer from Mississippi State -- who like Hood and Dukes point guard Fess Irvin was a preseason all-conference selection.

Nichols's presence could cause Hood's scoring numbers to drop, while making the Dukes more formidable.

"I don't want Steve worrying about how many points he's got to get," Driesell said. "And I really don't think that if he doesn't score as many points as he did last year, it means that we're not as good a team or he hasn't had as good a year."

But Hood, who accounted for nearly 30 percent of the Dukes' points last season while setting school records for points scored (682) and three-point field goal average (48.2), said he realizes that the more the team accomplishes, the more he ultimately will. "Even if my numbers aren't as good as they were last year but the team is still winning," he said, "that's going to help me even more."