It starts with the feet.
Wait, the feet?
Shooting a basketball is, for the most part, an exercise in hand-eye coordination, but its success is contingent on “feet set, shoulders square,” N.C. State’s Scott Wood says. The Wolfpack guard is adamant about this.
The hands, the wrist, the elbow will all fall in line with the feet. The feet? How do you argue with the best shooter in the ACC?
“I can change how I hold the ball or where I release it and I can still make the shot,” Wood said. “But when my feet are off, I can tell if the shot will go in, usually before the ball gets to the rim.”
And in Wood’s case, the ball goes in 40 percent of the time from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Baylor’s Brady Heslip was the only other Division I player, out of 333 teams, last season with the same shooting marks.
For N.C. State, production from Wood is the surest indicator of a win. When Wood scored in double-figures last season, the Wolfpack went 20-5. They were 4-7 when he didn’t. (He missed one game with an ankle injury). When he hit at least four 3-pointers, the Pack was even better, a perfect 10-0.
There are bigger stars on N.C. State’s team, and more talented players, but Wood has made himself the team’s most valuable. On a five-game trip to Spain, which begins Sunday in Madrid, a dress rehearsal for the most anticipated season of Wolfpack basketball in 25 years, Wood will attempt to expand on his value.
The senior guard will handle the ball more, with point guard Lorenzo Brown still recovering from minor knee surgery, and, he’ll have to replace some of the leadership lost with the departures of C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson from last year’s surprising team, which won 24 games and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
It’s a big task but Wood, a three-year starter, has big expectations for his final season.
“I think we have the components, and the pieces coming back, to where we can be a Final Four team,” Wood said earlier this summer.
Shoot, then walk
Wood, who is 6-6 and 170 pounds, spent the summer working on his shot. Actually, it has been more of a life’s pursuit. His father, also named Scott, played at Western Carolina in he mid-1980s. He taught his son to shoot before he could walk.
Scott would pick up the 6-month-old baby so he could shoot on a toy rim. Wood, who grew up in Marion, Ind., learned to walk by 9 months. He learned his shooting stroke on the plastic hoop. If he shot the ball the wrong way, his dad would swat the shots away.
“I was kind of hard on him,” the father said.
By the time Wood was 5, he graduated to a regulation 10-foot rim and took 500 shots a day; he obliterated Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour rule” in the process.
The payoff? Wood led the ACC last season in 3-point percentage (40.9) and 3-pointers (95). He set a conference record with 66 consecutive free throws and no one in the conference shot better than his 90.7 percent from the free-throw line (he needed more attempts, he had 97, to qualify as the official ACC leader).
Assistant coach Rob Moxley has worked with Wood this summer on scoring off the dribble and using a pump fake to set up his shot. The goal is to get Wood more clean looks, instead of just relying on a catch-and-shoot, and more trips to the line.
Wood’s free-throw attempts improved from 39 as sophomore to 97 last season. The goal is to get Wood around 130 or more.
“We don’t want to take away what he is great at,” Moxley said. “We’re trying to add a new dimension to his game, and maybe get two or three more points per game, which would help us win more games.”
Motivation just few miles away
Wood doesn’t use how the NCAA tournament ended for N.C. State in March as motivation for his offseason workouts.
He missed a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in the 60-57 loss to Kansas in the regional semifinals. He also stepped out of bounds with 5 seconds left after jumping to catch a pass from Brown. He finished the Kansas game 2 of 9 from the 3-point line, after going 4 of 5 in the 66-63 win over Georgetown in the previous round.
It’s North Carolina that keeps Wood motivated. Wood has struggled to get his shot against the bigger, more athletic Tar Heels. In seven games against UNC, he has made 21.2 percent of his field goals and 20 percent of his 3-pointers. Against every other team, Wood’s career percentages are 43.1 percent and 41.4 percent, respectively.
His State teams are 0-7 record against UNC, a stat that eats away at him.
“He doesn’t take losing well,” said Kentucky guard Julius Mays, who grew up with Wood in Marion and was his teammate for one season at N.C. State. “He tends to blame himself and get down on himself.”
To wit, Wood made the regrettable comment – “Has your wife ever cheated on you?” – to a local television reporter after a loss at UNC on Jan. 26. That video clip made Wood Internet famous for a 24-hour cycle.
After the home loss to the Heels on Feb. 21, which coincided with the worst three-game stretch of Wood’s career, he actually walked home from the Raleigh arena. Or at least he tried to.
“He got to about Hillsborough Street before I picked him up,” his dad said. “He’s a stand-up guy, always has been, but sometimes he takes it too hard.”
Shooting for the future
Scott Wood’s jump shot has taken him this far. He’s on track to become N.C. State’s career leader in 3-pointers (he needs 93 to pass Rodney Monroe) and in starts (he’s 34 shy of Ernie Myers).
His hope is he’ll get a chance in the NBA. Steve Novak, Mike Miller, J.J. Redick have cleared the path of the shooting specialist. Wood would like to follow in their footsteps.
“There’s always a spot for a shooter, but you have to do more,” Wood said.
Feet set, shoulders square. Wood is trying to get there, one step at a time.