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Jan. 25, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Ever since he was little, Scott Wood can remember being in a gym, putting up shot after shot.
“My dad couldn’t shoot to save his life,” said Wood, a 6-foot-6 junior at NC State, “but he always told me just continue to work hard and get a lot of shots up and you’re always going to improve. So from the age of probably 5 or 6 years old I was in the gym trying to get 500 shots up a night every night.”
Wood is one of the key pieces of a Wolfpack team that has jumped to a 4-1 start in the ACC, tying Duke and Florida State for first place. The Pack, 15-5 overall under first-year coach Mark Gottfried, plays at North Carolina Thursday.
Confidence is the hallmark of any good shooter and Wood has really come into his own this season. He’s shooting 48.1 percent from the field, 45.3 percent from the free throw line and has yet to miss in 48 attempts from the free throw line. The roots of that confidence may have started, again, when he was little.
“My dad once told me a story,” Wood said, “about when we went to a carnival and the (free throw game operator) said ‘you can move your son up and stand him up on the ledge to shoot.’ My dad said ‘you don’t want to do that’ but the guy said ‘why not let him?’ So dad moved me up to the ledge and I shot and made it and the guy said, ‘oh, man.’”
People have been saying ‘oh, man’ the last 58 times Wood has gone to the foul line (48 this season, 10 carried over from last season). He has made them all, breaking the ACC record of 54 straight previously held by Duke’s J.J. Redick. It’s the ninth longest streak in NCAA Division I history. The top spot is held by Butler’s Darnell Archey, who hit 85 straight spread over three seasons.
“I’m always confident,” Wood said. “Every time I shoot I think it’s going to go in. I think that’s the mindset of any person shooting the ball. It helps if you see a couple go through the net and you definitely think the next one is going to go in.
“The main thing about free throws is you’ve just got to be confident and be able to concentrate. If you can do that, have confidence the shot is going to go in and be able to block everything out, you’re going to be a good free throw shooter.”
Still, 58 straight has surprised even Wood.
“I would have expected to be shooting a great percentage,” he said, “but if you were to ask anybody in this world I don’t think they would expect to be 100 percent on the year.”
He feels honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Redick, but Wood also knew exactly which free throws tied and broke the record. They came Sunday in a road game at Miami, so there was no fanfare except from about 12 members of his extended family in attendance.
“Cousins and people like that,” Wood said. “It was nice to have them there and our section definitely knew when I broke the record and gave me a cheer.”
Wood is from Marion, Ind., a town of 30,000 about an hour north of Indianapolis and 45 minutes south of Fort Wayne. It has a distinguished high school basketball history, with its seven state championships second all-time in Indiana. But it wasn’t that hard for him to leave the state to play college basketball in the ACC.
There were some things for Wood to get used to when he arrived in Raleigh. One of his favorite restaurant chains, Fazoli’s, was nowhere to be found (there’s one in North Carolina, in Fayetteville). So he adapted to some new delights like Bojangles and Church’s Chicken and Zaxby’s.
“It was a good thing to change my scenery and try some new things,” he said.
When he told people where he was from, there were some inevitable reactions from those who expected him to step right out of the movie “Hoosiers.”
“A lot of people have called me Jimmy Chitwood, so I kind of have the ‘Hoosiers’ thing attached to me,” Wood said. ‘It’s not too bad but at the same time it gives you a lot of expectations.
“I’ve watched it, believe it or not, maybe only four or five times. To be honest, it’s about as real as it’s going to get about growing up in Indiana, almost identical to how it is. You’re either going to the farm or you’re going to play basketball.”
Wood made his presence felt at NC State from the beginning, averaging 28.6 minutes per game as a freshman. He scored 7.8 points per game but found scoring harder against better defense than he saw in high school. He shot just 39.5 percent overall and 37.3 percent on 3-pointers. And he missed 10 of 34 free throws.
As a sophomore he improved across the board – 31.3 minutes, 9.7 points, 43 percent overall, 41.9 percent on 3-pointers. And he missed just three of 39 free throws.
This season he’s up to 13.5 points – 15.6 in ACC games – and is part of a balanced attack that makes the Pack especially hard to defend. C.J. Leslie is averaging 12.8, Lorenzo Brown 12.4, C.J. Williams 12.0 and Richard Howell 11.9.
“They’re a much more balanced team than they’ve been in the past,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, “and I’ve always felt it’s harder to guard a team when all five guys can score. So they present problems that way and Scott is just on a heck of a run right here and whoever who gets that defensive assignment has got to get out there and get a hand up and bother him as much as they can because he’s just playing so, so well.”
Williams said a team can’t afford to foul Wood because that’s equivalent to giving him a layup. Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who was an assistant at Virginia when Jeff Lamp hit 48 foul shots in a row, said Wood’s consistency is what sets him apart.
“He gets a chance to get an open 3 if he gets any separation at all,” Larranaga said. “He shoots that at a very high level of proficiency, and you absolutely cannot foul him because he’s so focused, so consistent. He comes from a state that has produced an awful lot of great shooters over the years and he’s certainly one of them.”
Gottfried emphasizes practicing free throws, with the result that the Pack is hitting 75 percent as a team. Wood’s perfect score bolsters that, but three other starters, plus top reserves DeShawn Painter and Alex Johnson, are all at 72.1 percent or better.
As for Wood, Gottfried said he’s a natural, confident shooter who is also running the floor and defending better and who still has room for improvement.
This season so far represents a turnaround for State, which was 35-32 overall and just 10-22 in ACC play during Wood’s first two seasons.
“We’re playing together,” Wood said. “We’re making the extra pass, we’re getting defensive stops when we need stops and the coaching staff is giving us a really good scout on the opponent. We’re playing well and playing really unselfish.”
Thursday’s game against the seventh-ranked Tar Heels presents a test that many people feel will reveal a lot about the Wolfpack.
“It’s obviously one of those things,” Wood said, “that people are going to look at and say ‘hey, they haven’t won the big game against some of the bigger teams and the better teams.’
“We’ve just got to go in there with the mindset of just executing and playing good defense. It’s definitely a hostile crowd and they’re a really good team and if you don’t execute and you don’t take care of the ball, you’re not going to have much of a chance in there.”
North Carolina will be without starting guard Dexter Strickland, out for the season after tearing an ACL against Virginia Tech. Strickland, the Tar Heels’ best perimeter defender, would likely have guarded Wood much of the game.
“He’s a great player and he’s going to be missed by them,” Wood said, “but at the same time they’re going to be able to put some pieces in there to make his loss not so bad.”
This is a big rivalry and even Gottfried remarked that the game has a different feel because of the way fans, students and players are approaching it. Wood, however, is trying to maintain an even keel and not put too much stock in a single game.
“I treat every game the same,” he said. “When I step across that line I’m going to bring my A game every time. Whether it’s North Carolina or whether it’s Campbell, it doesn’t really matter. I’m always going in with the mindset that I’m going to win and that’s the way I am.”
That would likely make Jimmy Chitwood proud.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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