Jalen Hodge celebrated two major accomplishments in a matter of days.
On Friday, the O'Fallon senior reached 1,000 career points in the Panthers' 62-46 loss to East St. Louis. On Wednesday, following a weekend visit to Louisiana-Monroe, Hodge made a verbal commitment to play basketball for the Warhawks.
Louisiana-Monroe plays in the Sun Belt Conference with Louisiana, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, South Alabama, Troy, Texas-Arlington, Texas State, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock.
"Right when I got off the plane, they were completely honest with me, 100 percent, about the vision they saw for me. They didn't sugarcoat anything, and that was what I wanted to hear," said the 6-foot-1 Hodge, who averages 20.3 points and 4.3 rebounds along with 59 3-pointers and a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"They wanted me from the start," he said. "I knew this was the place. I'm happy. This is always something I've dreamed of — playing Division I."
Hodge also considered Division II Indianapolis, of the Great Lakes Valley Conference, and Tennessee-Martin, another Division I team that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference.
"Indianapolis was interesting. That was my top school early on," Hodge said. "Tennessee-Martin also made a push late."
Hodge said Louisiana-Monroe intends to use him exclusively at point guard since the team already has plenty of depth with combo guards that play the point and on the wing.
"I can be a guy that comes in right away and is that playmaker they need," Hodge said. "I'll definitely have to get stronger and smarter as a player. (Getting smarter) is something I can hopefully learn from the coaches and he players that are there right now."
Hodge thinks the learning curve won't be as steep since he considers himself a player with solid basketball IQ.
"I feel like I play the game knowing where guys are, knowing who likes the ball in what spots and knowing when to attack," he said. "I feel like I have a knack for the game of basketball."
Hodge has been a three-year player for the Panthers. He averaged 5.5 points as a sophomore and 11.9 points as a junior. He's taken his game up a notch this season, assuming responsibility lead O'Fallon's offense.
Hodge has scored in double figures in 23 of the Panthers' 26 games. He has had four games with at least 30 points, including a pair of career-high 35-point outbursts against Ritenour and East St. Louis.
"Over the summer, I was really serious every day," Hodge said. "I wanted to blow up (my senior year), and that's kind of what's happened. (Getting 1,000 points) is a big deal. They brought me in when I first moved here (from Lakenheath, England) my sophomore year. It's an honor."
Hodge, the son of Rodney and Lisa Hodge, will major in exercise science while pursuing his lifelong passion.
"Basketball has been my life since I was about 3 years old," Hodge said. "I've always been around it. It's always something I was in love with from the start. Just the everyday grind of it is what I enjoy the most."