“It was weird being out there for the first jump,” Woods said.
Woods’ journey to this moment was long and twisted, riddled with injuries and setbacks. However, the guard feels that his old first-year self wouldn’t have been able to handle tonight’s game the way he did.
“I don’t think I could’ve did what I did tonight my freshman year at all,” Woods said. “The biggest mistake I could’ve done was being zoned out mentally so I think my mental state from here back to freshman year is the biggest improvement for me.”
When Woods arrived to UNC three years ago, he was one of the most anticipated high school basketball players at the time. However, he was battling a knee injury from his senior year in high school, and it continued to plague him throughout his first year at North Carolina. During his sophomore season, a stress fracture forced him to miss multiple games.
Now, he’s a junior, and a contributing bench player. It wasn’t what he planned or expected, but he’s making the most of it and making his mark in any way he can.
Based on the stats, no one would see the impact Woods had. During the first half alone, he was 0-2 on field goals, including 0-1 on 3-pointers, and only had one rebound. The guard notched three assists but no points of his own.
Once the second half started, a different side of Woods played, one that his teammates want to see more often. Right out of the gate, the junior scored in the first 53 seconds of the half, moving to an aggressive style he'd have the rest of the game.
Two minutes later, Woods wormed his way past the Seahawks in the paint, lofting in a layup to push UNC’s lead to nine. By the end of the night, the guard totaled seven points, on 3-5 shooting from the field and two defensive rebounds.
This is what the team needed from him.
“I said, ‘Sev, that’s what we’ve been waiting for all season,’” Kenny Williams said. “…If we can get that from him, six to 10 points every night, there’s no telling how big that could be for the team.”
With a little over 15 minutes left in the second half, Williams made a break down the court, getting a clear shot of the basket. Even as the ball swished in, Woods followed up, just in case it missed. A few seconds later, Williams made another break and the duo was together again. The senior tossed the ball over to Woods, who was fouled while taking a shot.
Despite missing his free throws, the student section still chanted for him.
“Let’s go Seventh,” echoed throughout the Smith Center. The crowd was pulling behind the junior.
For the remainder of the half, Woods scrambled after the ball, hitting the ground hard and protecting his teammates as they took their shots. He stopped breakaways, forced the ball out of bounds, and even on the sideline, Woods contributed by cheering his teammates on.
To anyone there, the junior seemed more comfortable and at ease on the court.
“He obviously has great athleticism and in high school, it’s easier to use that athleticism to your advantage than it is as a college player because there’s a lot of other really great athletes in college,” UNCW men’s basketball head coach C. B. McGrath said. “He just looked more comfortable out there.”
With a team full of scorers, Woods plans to focus this season on racking up assists, finishing off baskets, and being there for his team. The Wednesday night game boosted his confidence despite him not being 100 percent satisfied with his play.
And the real Seventh Woods that everyone was expecting two years ago finally came out from the shadows.
“That’s me and that’s the me that I need to bring to the court more often,” he said.
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