Seventh Woods is starting to find his comfort level and confidence at the right time.
The former Hammond standout is at a better place both physically and mentally as he nears the end of his freshman season for the North Carolina basketball team. Woods is coming off the bench for the Tar Heels, who are the top seed in the South Regional and face Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Woods scored two points and had two assists in Friday’s win over Texas Southern, his first tournament game played in his home state.
“I feel way more comfortable than the first part of the season,” Woods said. “It had a rough start, as expected, really. Game started to slow down and it is coming easier and easier. As far as contributing, I’m getting the minutes and making the most of it.”
Woods had about 10 family and friends at the first-round game on Friday. He said his parents attended almost all of UNC’s home games and also attended when the Tar Heels played at Clemson.
Woods is starting to find his groove after battling knee and ankle problems over the summer while getting ready for the season. UNC coach Roy Williams said Woods was probably at a five or six on a scale of 1-10 after the early part of the Tar Heels’ schedule but said he is probably up to around an eight health-wise.
Woods has had his share of moments during his freshman campaign. He replaced an injured Joel Berry on Dec. 5 against Radford, scored nine points in 22 minutes and had his first collegiate dunk.
In the first meeting against Duke, Woods scored four points, had four assists and had no turnovers in eight minutes. For the season, he is averaging about eight minutes a game and contributing almost two points and two rebounds per contest.
“Then the biggest thing is that he wasn’t as healthy as we needed him to be, because when he’s healthy he’s got a gear that a lot of people don’t have,” Williams said Thursday. “And so just recently we’ve started seeing Seventh do the things that we thought he could do all along. But because of his body and aches and pains and not being healthy, he lost some of his confidence, and I haven’t been able to get him back to where I’d like for him to be confidence-wise.
“But I say this, and I believe it, other than his mom and his dad, nobody thinks he’s going to be as good a player as Roy Williams does.”
Despite the confidence in Woods, Williams also has been critical at times of the first-year player, who might be UNC’s quickest point guard since Ty Lawson. But Woods took his coach’s words in stride and thinks it has made him a better player as the season has gone along.
“Coach Williams had a lot of criticism, but I was fine with it,” Woods said. “He always told me what to do and how to do it. I learned, as long as you listen to him, you would be better off than trying to do your own thing.”
Woods was the top prospect in South Carolina last year and chose UNC, which he called his dream school, over South Carolina. He knew his first season was going to be a learning experience playing behind Berry, and tried to pick up pointers from Berry and fellow backup Nate Britt. He said Britt is one of his closest friends on the team and the two talk a lot when they are on the bench.
Woods said the biggest adjustment for him was getting used to the pace of play in the college game, but he has made strides in trying to slow things down. He also is more vocal now than he was in high school, which should bode well in the future as his playing time and responsibilities increase when Berry graduates.
“I became more of a vocal player, and that is something I struggled all my life with. But I’m more comfortable talking a lot,” Woods said. “I am learning every day, constantly wanting to learn so that when it is my time I will be prepared.”