David Cloninger

Seventh Woods only had one chance to fulfill his childhood dream

Home is where the heart is, and in Seventh Woods’ case, his heart led him to his new home.

As much as South Carolina had going for it in the quest to land the nation’s No. 35 prospect, and as hard as Frank Martin and his staff worked, they were fighting an uphill battle. I can vouch that Martin and his staff did everything they could possibly do over the past three years to get Woods; that’s what made it so agonizing when his official visit to USC ended without a verbal pledge.

Three years’ worth of work was still being trumped by the one thing USC couldn’t do anything about – Woods was a North Carolina fan. Like the song says, he was Tar Heel born and Tar Heel bred. He grew up watching UNC and always envisioned himself wearing that baby-blue uniform – obviously not in the No. 23 of his idol, Michael Jordan, but the colors were still the same.

That’s an awful lot for any team not named North Carolina to overcome. No matter the reasoning – it’s a lengthy drive from home for your family, you may not play as much, UNC is still dealing with a nasty academic scandal that may or may not affect future teams’ postseasons – it was still North Carolina. Woods knew that he’d only get one chance to achieve his childhood dream, and any arguments against that were sound but still not enough to fully turn him away.

And that’s what ultimately cost the Gamecocks.

“That was a big part of it,” Woods said. “It was a tough decision, but I think UNC was the best. South Carolina was definitely in the picture.”

All of the work Martin and his assistants had done was designed to get a verbal commitment before Woods left campus. It was his last official visit, and he had been to plenty of USC practices and games beforehand. Every single time, he left saying how much he loved being around the team, and if they were just words from a teenager enjoying the recruiting process, then why did he keep coming back?

No, Woods meant what he said every time and USC completely understood the line it could not cross – the Gamecocks wanted Woods, but they weren’t going to demand a pledge, public or private, before he left campus that weekend.

So they hoped he would say he was coming, and he didn’t. Woods wanted to keep weighing out the process. That kept UNC in the mix, and the more time UNC had to talk and persuade and invite him to events, the worse off the Gamecocks were going to be.

Woods wrestled with the decision and made up his mind on Monday night. He said it was the hardest call he’d ever made, when he called Martin and told them he wasn’t coming.

At the end of the day, it’s recruiting and teenagers, and there’s never an accurate barometer on just what a kid will do when it’s his moment. USC is still going to be extremely talented – Martin has signed five Top-100 players in the past three years, including No. 82 Sedee Keita this year. The Gamecocks have still made an impact on Columbia and South Carolina prospects, promising that staying home will be the best choice they can ever make.

They would have loved to have Woods, but they were never going to replace 18 years’ worth of loving North Carolina. “It’s always been my dream school,” Woods said.

His dream came true, while South Carolina’s didn’t.

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