UK basketball notebook: Unforgettable Woods setting a tone at Morehead State

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJune 9, 2012 

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Morehead State Coach Sean Woods said he wants to turn the school into the "Gonzaga of the South" — a mid-major school that can compete with any college team.

HERALD-LEADER

His office is a narrow windowless rectangle off a dimly lit inner hallway. Undecorated beige cinder-block walls enhance a bunker atmosphere. An hour west is the home of mighty Kentucky, current king of college basketball and comfortable dictating to an elite program like Indiana recently. An hour east is Marshall, a relative heavyweight in its Tri-State Area.

In an office where the sun literally and figuratively doesn't shine, new coach Sean Woods works to put Morehead State in the spotlight.

Woods, the former UK point guard, has been Morehead State's coach almost a month. In that time, he's spoken to alumni groups in Maysville and Ashland. He participated in a fund-raiser Saturday, two days after giving the keynote speech to a Morehead Chamber of Commerce event.

Of the 25 or so interviews he's given, Woods talks of building on the success of his predecessor, Donnie Tyndall, who made Morehead State a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament.

"My biggest thing is really creating and keeping the buzz going around the state with all our supporters," Woods said recently. "Getting them fired up."

Morehead State Athletics Director Brian Hutchinson explained the immediate mission of any new coach.

"In one word, it is just tone," he said. "Set a tone for the program and how things are going to be in our program."

Woods re-recruited the holdover players at Morehead State. Tyndall, who moved to Southern Miss, helped by vouching for Woods, the new coach said.

"He didn't leave the cupboard bare," Woods said of Tyndall. "We have some size and wings. We just need to get a couple point guards and another 'two.' "

A sizable incoming freshman class recruited by Tyndall remains in flux.

Meanwhile, Woods and his wife, Dashaynia, are in the process of buying a home in Morehead. She lives in Lexington with her sister-in-law as Woods juggles a new job and the preparation to return to Mississippi to retrieve the family's belongings.

"It's just been a whirlwind," he said.

As he said at his introductory news conference, Woods wants to make Morehead State "the Gonzaga of the South." That is to say a mid-major program that can compete with any college team.

Woods smiled and nodded when asked if he used the same line — Gonzaga of the South — to describe his intentions when he became coach at Mississippi Valley State.

"I did," he said, "and we were headed that way."

Mississippi Valley State, which served as the impoverished program in a recent USA Today story on financial disparity in college athletics, qualified for this year's NCAA Tournament. That capped Woods' rebuilding effort for a program that practiced for months in a nearby middle school when it couldn't afford to repair water damage in its home gym.

While Woods worked to make athletics, and basketball in particular, a higher priority at Mississippi Valley State, he now finds himself at Morehead State, which tasted success with Tyndall. Now the Eagles want more.

"The passion is much better," Woods said. "They understand athletics is the front porch of the university."

Hutchinson noted how athletic success can boost enrollment and provide what he called "immeasurables" such as pride and enthusiasm.

Morehead State upset Louisville in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. As a result, "We were relevant," Hutchinson said.

The A.D. charged Woods with taking what Tyndall did and doing more.

"We're not in a rebuilding mode," Hutchinson said. "I don't want us to go backward. I expect us to compete for the league championship every year. I expect us to compete in the league tournament every year."

Woods acknowledged that in a bottom-line business like coaching it's winning that makes the difference.

"Once you're winning and creating excitement, it all takes care of itself," he said. "I truly believe that. At the end of the day, winning is going to bring people's attention to our program."

Winning on a memorable scale would bring Woods full circle. As a member of The Unforgettables 20 years ago, he was part of a heart-warming revival of UK basketball.

"That's what I want to do here at Morehead State," he said in the narrow rectangle that is his working home. "Have that kind of effect."

Too many taunts?

With the possible exception of Louisville fans, Indiana rooters mock Coach John Calipari and Kentucky with the most biting gusto. Could that be a reason Calipari refuses to return to Bloomington?

Former IU player and coach Dan Dakich found it difficult to believe that taunts from Indiana fans played a significant role in UK's refusal to budge from the decision to kill the series with Indiana.

Recalling his first college road game, which was in Rupp Arena, Dakich said, "I hear some woman behind (the IU bench) swearing like a crazy person at Coach (Bob) Knight. I look over and she was dressed like Ashley Judd in a dress and everything else.

"That's just part of it. If that bothers you, I would be shocked."

Last week Calipari noted that he was following the lead of Knight, who was IU coach in 1991 when the series shifted to a rotation of neutral sites. In recent seasons, the series returned to a home-and-home format.

Calipari voiced concerns about safety to him, Dakich said.

"That's fine," the former IU player and coach said.

Dakich said that IU knew how to handle big-game atmospheres.

"Indiana had big games for 40 years in that building, huge games," he said. "So they know how to go about protecting the building. It wasn't dangerous. But if John feels that way, legitimately, then so be it.

"I think the whole thing is silly."

Pressure

UK players noted the pressure associated with the NBA Combine and compared it to performing at the Final Four. Terrence Jones mentioned how teamwork helps deal with the Final Four, while the Combine is more individualistic.

"This is way different," Marquis Teague said of last week's Combine in Chicago. "They both have great pressure. This is more like dealing with your life. This is a job, now. You can't play around with it."

Pick and roll

John Calipari's NBA background helped familiarize UK players with a pick-and-roll offense, several ex-Cats said at the Combine.

"(Kentucky) got me prepared the best," Marquis Teague said. "That's why I went there. Coach Cal put us in an NBA-type offense."

Of pick-and-roll action, Teague said, "In the NBA, that's pretty much all they run. That's pretty much all I heard: pick and roll, pick and roll."

'Kind of crazy'

During the NBA Combine's Friday interview session, a reporter asked Anthony Davis about playing against pro big men.

"I'm kind of scared of playing (Boston's Kevin Garnett) because he's kind of crazy," Davis said. "But he has a love for the game.''

Father knows best

When asked what advice his father, Brian, gave him before the NBA Combine, Darius Miller smiled and said, "My dad has words for me every day. ... He's just very encouraging. I'm so thankful I have a dad there for me, and brought me up the way he did."

Miller also noted his appreciation to be part of the NBA Combine.

"I've dreamed of playing in the NBA since I was little," he said. "I'm blessed to be part of it."

Point guards

The perception is the 2012 NBA Draft has a weak crop of point guards. If true, that might help elevate the stock of Marquis Teague, who disagreed with the premise of a relatively poor group of point guards.

A point guard has been the overall No. 1 pick in three of the past four NBA drafts: Derrick Rose in 2008, John Wall in 2010 and Kyrie Irving in 2011.

Point-counterpoint

Former UNC player Harrison Barnes mentioned how close he is to Kyrie Irving. Predictably, someone asked how a Tar Heel can be friends with a Blue Devil.

Barnes joked that since Kyrie only played 10 games for Duke, he doesn't really count as a Blue Devil.

When reporters finished laughing, Barnes acknowledged that Irving had a comeback: It took Barnes 60 UNC games to get drafted.

Different level

Former Kansas star Thomas Robinson suggested that intensity can make him a standout NBA player.

"I think I'll be the most ready-to-play out of the group," he said. "My game is really oriented toward rebounding and playing hard and I think that will help me at the next level.

"I play at a different level than everybody else — a different intensity level. I'm going to play every night and that's not something every guy will do — show up every night."

Beal's decision

Bradley Beal noted the conflicted emotions involved in deciding to leave Florida after his freshman season and enter the 2012 NBA Draft.

"It was really tough because I have a great team and established a home in Gainesville," he said. "We could have had a great team next year because everyone would be coming back. We would have had a nice run toward the Final Four, I believe.

"But in the end it was an opportunity presented before me that I had to take."

Beal suggested that the chance to leave school work behind was not a factor. "I'm the type of guy who actually likes school," he said.

Comparison's sake

Former Florida guard Bradley Beal accepted the comparisons he's heard to Eric Gordon and Ray Allen. But the player closest to his heart has been Allen Iverson.

"I loved Allen Iverson just for the way he played," Beal said. "I wore his wristbands. I wore his shoes. I really mimicked everything he did growing up."

To which a reporter asked if Beal wore his hair in braids as did Iverson.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I had braids."

Measured response

When asked his true height, Bradley Beal said in a deadpan voice, "I'm actually 5-8." Then he added, "No, I'm 6-4."

The NBA Combine measured Beal at 6-31/4 without shoes.

Etc.

Terrence Jones said his agent is Makhtar Ndiaye, the former North Carolina player. ... Darius Miller on how much a NBA team should invest in him: "Hopefully, a lot." ... Doron Lamb on his NBA skills: "I can play 'one' or 'two.' I can guard 'one' or 'two.'"

Happy birthday

To former Vandy and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler. He turns 64 Tuesday. ... To ESPN commentator Dick Vitale. He turned 73 Saturday. ... To former UK players Chuck Hayes (he turns 29 Monday) and LaVon Williams (he turns 54 Sunday).

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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