COLUMBIA — It’s recruiting and it’s teenagers, so all of the behind-the-scenes info and crystal-ball predictions ultimately don’t matter. The only thing that does is when Prospect signs his name on Letter and faxes it to School of Choice.
Forget all that you heard about what really went down in November 2015 before Seventh Woods tugged that baby-blue North Carolina cap on his head and put pen to paper, committing to the Tar Heels. South Carolina, his hometown school, was very, very close to landing him but didn’t, which was the same bottom line where Woods scripted his name as a future resident of Chapel Hill.
All of that was then and this is now. Woods is a Gamecock for the next two seasons, pledging to USC six weeks ago, and that’s all that needs to be discussed.
“Every day, somebody else tells me, ‘Just happy that you’re home,’” Woods said. “It definitely feels unreal, but I’m thankful for it.”
He was wearing his new South Carolina shirt and standing against a large Gamecock printed on the wall of Carolina Coliseum’s practice facility. His backpack was stitched with the logo of the 2017 Final Four, the one that both Carolinas were in but only Woods and his UNC teammates won.
There are no sour grapes from his time at UNC, but despite the national championship he won as a freshman, there’s little doubt why Woods chose to come home.
Anyone can read Woods’ middling statistics and his injury history in three years as a Tar Heel and figure that out.
“I felt like going away was the best for me at that time. I spent three years there, I don’t regret it at all,” Woods said. “Now it’s just time for a different scenario. I want to play basketball after college. I want to build my resume as much as possible.”
That wasn’t going to happen at UNC, where he was viewed as a backup who never lived up to his immense promise. Then again, when he was an internet sensation at age 14 (his dunk mixtape is still the first hit under his name on YouTube), it was going to be tough to live up to that anyway.
“I don’t (re-watch it), at all. I never search my name,” Woods said. “I wouldn’t say it was pressure, but a lot of people expected so much from me every time I stepped on the court. But I just tried to balance it out and go out there and play the best game I could that day.”
That leads into why USC was his top choice when he left UNC. The Gamecocks were honest with him, telling him they would love to have him but with only one scholarship available, they had to take a needed big man. Woods understood and accepted it, as it fit into his plans.
He was OK with sitting out this year, getting healthy, getting stronger, learning Frank Martin’s system and then taking over next season. Woods is paying his own way to school this year, and the plan is to go on scholarship next year.
“He’s been under a microscope since he was 13 years old. I don’t know how he’s done it and kept his sanity,” Martin said, stating that Woods needed to re-discover his “swag.”
And Woods managed to surprise Martin, telling him of his commitment just before he posted it (a picture of his new USC student ID card) on Instagram. The trust earned from Martin’s original recruitment of Woods never changed.
He’ll practice against his teammates, advise them and get ready for his chance next season, along with accepting the inevitable Larry Davis comparisons. Out of Denmark-Olar High, Davis landed at North Carolina and won a national championship. But after two seasons of sparse minutes, Davis transferred to USC, played two years and as a senior, helped lead the Gamecocks to their only SEC championship.
By the time Woods suits up, that magical season will have been 23 years ago. Woods wore No. 23 at Hammond School, and is transferring from a school where No. 23 is the most exalted of the numbers hanging in the rafters.
Woods has dealt with pressure his entire career. It would have been there had he chosen USC in the first place.
None of that matters now. All that does is he chose to come here.
“Coming back to a coach that allowed me to come home,” he said. “Family’s here, friends here, been getting along well with the team and coaches. It’s all been good so far.”