Canes Focus: Michelle Woods

Canes Focus: Michelle Woods

By David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Michelle Woods may not be the mosttalkative player, but her game makes a lot of noise on the court.

The sophomore guard leads the Hurricanes in 3-pointpercentage, while ranking second in assists and minutes, and third in scoring.

Woods, 20, has been successful playing point guard for Miamidespite lacking the outgoing personality that most great floor generalsnaturally have.

“I’m a quiet person,” Woods said. “The coaches want to seeme talk more on the floor but I don’t talk that much.”

Miami coach Katie Meier and her staff constantly remindsWoods to be more vocal on the floor. When the young guard is not being verbalenough, Meier is quick to give Woods a reminder of what she needs to do.

“If I’m not talking, she’ll probably make me run and thatreminds me to talk,” Woods said. “They’ll pull me aside and talk to me aboutwhat they want me to do. If I still don’t talk enough, I know I’ll probably berunning.”

Woods admits that she could be more vocal but Meier hasalready seen the sophomore improve as a leader from when she first arrived oncampus prior to last season.

“She’s made a significant improvement in that area,” Meiersaid. “She knows the game. When someone is in the wrong spot for her, thatupset her but she wasn’t communicating it. She was just being upset and leavingit alone. We’re pretty frank around here and we told her ‘what do you think isgoing to change?’ We only have five timeouts a game so if you need something tochange, you can’t wait for the coaches to fix it for you. She realized that sheneeded to take charge and she’s done a great job with it.”

Silent recruitment

Communication was a struggle for Woods during herrecruitment, as well. A two-time Class 2A Player of the Year in Florida, Woodsguided her team to a pair of state titles and five district titles whileplaying for her father, Mitch Woods, at Naples Community School.

All of her accolades made her a highly attractive prospectto schools all around the country and Woods was bombarded with letters and phonecalls from college coaches trying to get her to join their programs.

“My dad would get phone calls from coaches and he was alwaystelling me to call coaches,” Woods said. “I didn’t really listen though becauseI don’t like to talk. I got bombarded with letters, but I wouldn’t open most ofthem up. The schools that were too far away I wouldn’t even open theirletters.”

Woods’ father, who played collegiately at Rollins College inWinter Park, Fla., played a key role in forming Woods as a basketball player.

“I look up to him,” Woods said. “He always tells me stuff todo like put up extra shots or work on my ball handling and study my plays. Heis always trying to help me improve as a player and a point guard.”

Playing for her father for most of her career, Woods lookedfor a coach that she could connect to like she did with her father. ThoughMeier is more animated than Coach Woods, Michelle felt a connection to Miami’scoach similar to what she had with her dad.

“My dad is really calm and she is very different,” Woodssaid. “Coach Meier is very enthusiastic, animated and has a lot of energy.Coach Meier likes to yell to get her message through but it’s in a good way.Off the court, she is like a mom. She takes care of us. She’s always lookingout for us and always willing to help us.”

Woods weighed all of her options and settled on a finalthree of Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast and Miami.

“Gulf Coast is like 15 minutes from home but I didn’t wantto be that close to home,” Woods said. “FSU is kind of far away, so Miami wasperfect. It was the best choice. It’s only like an hour and a half away fromhome. But I didn’t talk to the coaches and tell them that. I came on myofficial visit and after that, I was sure I was going to come here.”

While Woods knew she wanted to be a Hurricane, Meier and herstaff were not as confident.

“She made sense to us, being from a great family and localenough,” Meier said. “We were far enough away where she could get a little bitaway from home but was still within driving distance. I felt good about her butwe couldn’t really get a read on her.”

Before Woods told Meier she wanted to be a Hurricane, thetalented guard scared Miami’s coach into thinking she was going to playcollegiately at the University of South Florida.

“She had gone to South Florida’s team camp for a weekend andthat had us nervous,” Meier said. “She called me right after the camp and shedid really well. I thought ‘oh gosh, that’s closer to home and I didn’t hearfrom her all weekend.’ So she finally calls me and tells me ‘Coach, you’ve beenrecruiting me the hardest and the longest and I have so much respect for youguys that I wanted you to know that I’ve made my decision.’ And my heart justdropped because she said, ‘I don’t want you to have to read this in the paper.’And I was like ‘no way did we lose this kid!’ I had a horrible feeling and thenshe goes ‘I’m committing to Miami.’ I remember yelling at her and her parentsbecause they had me going, but I was so excited to hear that she was going tojoin us.”

Overcoming challenges

Woods has always been the quiet floor general. As one of thebest high school players in Florida, Woods was a star without having to saymuch, so becoming a more vocal leader has been a challenge for her.

“I struggled with it in high school,” Woods said. “I didn’ttalk much in high school and having to communicate more now is different andnew to me. I’ve been working on it though to try and get better at it.”

The second-year guard is still timid at times, but she isbecoming the leader Meier wants running her offense.

“She is demanding things from her teammates now,” Meiersaid. “She’s a very nice young lady and well raised but she is demanding whenshe needs to be. The team is figuring out what it takes to win and that’s beenfun to watch, especially in her. She’s not saying ‘I shouldn’t yell at herbecause she is a senior.’ Someone is making a mistake on her team under hercommand and she is demanding more from them. That’s going to make her animportant player for us.”

While Woods is tackling the challenge of overcoming herquiet demeanor to become a better communicator, the talented guard has alwayschallenged herself in different ways on the basketball court and found success.

She grew up playing youth basketball with her older brother,Mitch. Early on, opposing teams did not guard Woods because she was a girl.Then they saw her play and made her a focal point as they tried to defend thefuture Division I player.

“It made me better,” Woods said of playing against boys.”They were much faster and stronger but I could still hang with them. A lot ofteams didn’t want to guard me because I was a girl and they thought I would gethurt. But then they saw that I could play and they had to guard me.”

After playing with the boys for three years, Woodstransitioned to girls’ basketball. But playing with girls her own age proved tobe boring and uncompetitive so she decided to play against older, morephysically mature girls.

“I had to play up because there was no competition,” Woodssaid. “It was easy playing against people my age. As I started playing up, itwas a little bit intimidating. I was really young and worried that I would getmy shot blocked all the time. But then I started to gain confidence.”

Meier has seen Woods’ confidence soar as the season hasprogressed. With every game, Woods has become more of a leader and earned moreof Meier’s trust. Though just a sophomore, Meier considers Woods one of theleaders on the team and someone who holds the responsibilities of anupperclassman.

“She is extremely talented,” Meier said. “She’s a verycomposed player. She definitely wants to have command of the game. In herfreshman year, she didn’t have to have as big of a role because of theAll-Americans we had in the backcourt, but she had a very important role. Ithink she knows that she has worth here, but it’s a matter of her taking thatnext huge step. So much has graduated from our backcourt. Most freshmen get alittle more responsibility in their sophomore year, but it’s like she hasjunior responsibilities right now. That’s a big leap for her because we ask herto play a lot of point guard.”

Following in the footsteps of stars Shenise Johnson andRiquna Williams, Woods has had to take on significant responsibilities. Johnsonand Williams were the primary ball handlers on a team that went to the secondround in the NCAA tournament last year. This season, Meier has turned to Woodsand senior Stefanie Yderstrom to make Miami’s offense go and she has beenpleased with how Woods has responded.

“Playing point guard for me is not easy. It’s fun, but it’snot easy,” Meier said. “I want you to think as quickly as I do and that’s avery hard thing to do. To have all the options in your brain and picking one ofthose options as you’re going full speed down the court. Early on, I think theadjustment we made with Michelle was giving her two options instead of 20. Wegive her two and then in the next time out we’ll give her two more. I think youcan see she is getting command of the game that way and that is going to helpus in ACC play.”