John Clay: No easy answers in Kentucky's involvement with Tony Woods

Domestic-violence charge raises eyebrows

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 15, 2011 

Last fall, Kentucky fans got quite a laugh from news that troubled Wake Forest center Tony Woods appeared headed to Louisville, further proof of just how desperate the Cards had become.

But then Friday, Yahoo Sports' Jason King revealed Woods was no longer keen on joining the 'Ville and had spent a day recently meeting with Kentucky Coach John Calipari and his staff, plus Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and President Lee T. Todd Jr., as well.

Who's laughing now?

Calipari is the king of second chances. That we know. Over the years, the UK coach has done much good by taking kids that other coaches avoided, by rescuing kids other coaches cast aside.

But the Woods case is a different and much more complicated case. His was not an alcohol problem or a drug problem or an attitude problem. His was a put-his-hands-on-a-female problem.

After a disappointing freshman season at Wake, the Rome, Ga., native was charged with assault while inflicting serious injury, assault on a female and assault while inflicting serious injuries with a minor present.

Arrest warrants showed Woods kicked and pushed his girlfriend, Courtney Barbour, in the presence of his 1-year-old child. Barbour suffered a fractured spine.

Woods eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female. He performed 100 hours of community service and underwent anger management counseling. After being indefinitely suspended from the Wake basketball program, he asked for and was granted his release.

Close to U of L assistant Tim Fuller, Woods spent the basketball season living and working in Louisville. Though he was never part of the basketball program, it was practically assumed that he would end up playing for the Cards and Rick Pitino, a development that sent UK fans into a full howl.

But then came a game-changer: Fuller left Louisville for Missouri, and Woods showed up in Lexington.

Reportedly no scholarship has been offered. That he met with the school's athletics director and president, however, would indicate Kentucky is serious about his services.

"I guess they're the ones who ultimately have to give me the green light," Woods told Yahoo Sports' King. "Hopefully, I left them with a good impression."

King's story paints the picture of an incident blown out of proportion. Barbour claims she never believed Woods was trying to injure her. She says her back ailment may have come from a fall out of bed the week before. She said she fully supported Woods.

But should Kentucky be the school to grant the center a second chance?

After all, players booted from high-profile schools usually drop to a lower-profile program. UK basketball is not a low-profile program. And with the nation's top recruiting class scheduled to arrive on campus this fall, UK is far from desperate for talent.

Moreover, Calipari has done good work here on the court and off. His team's GPA has risen from 2.0 to 3.14. His four signees for next season are all considered high-character guys. He has had no off-the-court problems.

Why risk that for Woods?

But then there is this: In 2005, Memphis' Jeremy Hunt was charged with assault after, according to the police report, he allegedly "pushed, shoved, punched and grabbed" his ex-girlfriend, Tamika Rogers. Hunt was later "permanently dismissed" by Calipari when allegedly involved in another assault.

Less than a year later, after Hunt earned a degree, Calipari reversed his "permanent suspension" and reinstated Hunt for the 2006-07 season, a move that sent Calipari's critics into full howl.

But Hunt wound up second on the team in scoring, earned NBA tryouts, and is now playing professional basketball overseas.

Maybe Tony Woods fashions a similar story by taking full advantage of his second chance. Or maybe he winds up in more trouble, bringing negative publicity to a recent stretch filled with positives.

It's a tough call.

And no laughing matter.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnclayiv.

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