By Turner Walston
Of the ten Tar Heels who saw the court in Sunday's come-from-behind win over Tennessee, Seventh Woods played the fewest minutes. In three shifts, the freshman totaled seven minutes and forty-one seconds. He scored six points on 3-3 shooting, had two rebounds, a steal and three turnovers in Carolina's two-point win.
Woods is a freshman point guard at the University of North Carolina. In putting on the Tar Heel jersey, he adds his name to a lineage that includes Kenny Smith, King Rice and Derrick Phelps; Ed Cota, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson and Kendall Marshall. Joel Berry. It's a daunting task. The expectations, both internally and externally, from self, from Roy Williams and the coaching staff, from fans, are incredible. And so Woods is going through natural growing pains. Woods has totaled the ninth-most minutes on the team, but he leads the Tar Heels in turnovers, with one every 6.5 minutes. At the same time, he's fourth on the team in steals and has proven to be an excellent rebounding guard.
And so while there are the requisite growing pains that come with being a young North Carolina point guard, Woods has shown flashes of the brilliance that made him the two-time Mr. Basketball in the state of South Carolina. Twenty seconds into his first shift in last weekend's game against the Volunteers, Woods brought the ball up the court. Noticing that no defender came to front him, Woods took the ball to basket, going up and under to avoid a leaping Jordan Bowden for the score.
Moments later, Woods aggressively drove again. This time, he leapt in the air, and, perhaps not receiving the contact he was expecting, lost the ball.
The leash was shorter in the second half. After a made Tennessee basket, Woods looked for Kennedy Meeks in transition. His long pass tipped off Meeks' hands and out of bounds. Nine seconds later, he was out of the game.
"Honestly I've been getting pretty frustrated," Woods said after the Tar Heels' game against Radford. "But Coach [Steve Robinson]'s been talking to me a lot. He said all the point guards have been through it. Joel Berry, Kendall, Ty Lawson . . . they've all been through it freshman year, so I'm just trying to go out there and hold my own really. I understand I'm going to mess up sometimes, but that's been frustrating, for the most part."
Point guard frustrations aren't limited to freshmen. Starting in place of the injured Berry, the senior Britt was just 4-14 from the field against Tennessee. But his steals and inspired play to begin the second half helped key the eventual comeback. Britt found ways to contribute even as his shots weren't falling. Three years ago, Britt was that freshman point guard struggling to adapt to Carolina basketball. He sees Woods going through the same difficulties.
"At first, it can get into your head, and I think all of us have gone through it, every freshman point guard, at least since i've been here between Joel and I and now watching Sev," Britt said. "But I think he's gotten a lot more receptive to what Coach is saying. He's understanding that Coach is only on him so much because that's how much confidence he has in him, and he wants him to be better than what he's playing right now he knows how good Seventh is."
And so maybe it was that confidence Williams has in Woods that put him back in the game for one more go, and that confidence that was rewarded. Woods took a defensive rebound and moved up the court. He gave a hard left-handed dribble to shake Shembari Phillips, then spun into the lane for a score. Just seconds later, he poked the ball free from Phillips and into the hands of Stilman White, who found the streaking Woods for a reverse layup. It was a single-handed Seventh Woods 4-0 run in a game the Tar Heels would win by two. When he checked out for the final time, the Smith Center fans rewarded Woods with an ovation.
"Seventh is getting more comfortable at the one spot and pushing the ball and figuring out how he can get into the paint and score," Britt said. "He's the fastest player I think I've ever played with on the ball."
The Tar Heel head coach is hard on him because of those high expectations, because Williams knows Woods' potential. And over time those flashes of brilliance will likely begin to outweigh the turnovers and misplays. With more confidence shown from his coaches, Woods' confidence in himself will grow.
Seventh Woods' journey is his own. His is not the same as his fellow freshmen. Tony Bradley has made an immediate impact in the post, and in fact sealed the win over Tennessee with a late block. Brandon Robinson has stepped into a versatile role on the wing in the absence of the injured Theo Pinson; he has found ways to fill just about every category of a box score.
Woods' teammates know his potential, and they empathize with his struggles. Joel Berry will return from an ankle injury soon, and playing may continue to be hard to come by for Woods. Maybe that's good, because Woods won't feel as much pressure as often. But certainly he can learn from being thrust into the spotlight early in his career.
Woods is the tallest point guard on the Tar Heel roster. He's not Berry; he's not Britt, or Marshall or Lawson or Felton. He's Seventh Woods, with a unique skill set that made him five-time All-State in South Carolina, that made him a YouTube sensation as an eighth-grader. Now that skill set must be adapted to fit within the Carolina system. Fortunately, in Britt and Berry, he has two players to model that transition.
"When you've got Joel and Nate, two veteran point guards, just watching them, I've learned a lot from just sitting on the bench, watching them, and going against them in practice," Woods said. "Coach has been my ear a lot, helping me, guiding me through."
The education of Seventh Woods continues.