OAKLAND, Calif. — His basketball mixtape has generated more than 11.5 million hits on YouTube. One of his dunks led SportsCenter. And he was invited to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
All before he turned 16.
For the past few years, Seventh Woods has been hailed as a basketball prodigy, operating in the same type of limelight that followed stars such as LeBron James, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins when they were in high school.
Whether it’s because of his one-handed tomahawk slams in traffic, his step-back three-pointers with a defender in his face or his unique first name, everyone in basketball circles seems to know about Woods, a 15-year-old South Carolina native who has already been featured on CBSSports.com and in Slam Magazine.
“I think he handles it well,” said Major Williamson, Woods’ AAU coach on the Carolina Wolves. “The lights don’t bother him. There’s a real calmness about him. He doesn’t get very high about most things.
“Whenever good things happen, he’s like ‘This is what I expected to happen.’”
What may be catching Woods and his handlers by surprise, however, are the questions that surfaced in recent months about Woods’ game.
Sure, the 6’1” rising junior can soar for highlight-reel dunks, but why isn’t the point guard more vocal on the court? Woods has a hiccup-quick first step, but does he have it in him to be a leader? He jumps so high that he once got a concussion after hitting his head on the backboard during a block attempt. But what’s more important: Woods’ leaping ability or his propensity for making those around him better?
Much like NBA scouts with a college senior, the same recruiting analysts and coaches who once fawned over Woods are now picking his game apart. It doesn’t mean they don’t like him. They just want to see more.
“His dunks are unbelievable,” an instructor at the NBA Top 100 camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, said last month. “But as a point guard? He’s just OK. He’s got a long way to go.”
Woods—the 12th-ranked prospect in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com—said he isn’t bothered by the criticism and realizes there are plenty of things on which he can improve.
“There’s no pressure on me,” Woods told Bleacher Report. “I just have to go out there and do my best. People expect to see what they saw on that mixtape, but I’ve just got to play my game.”
Ah yes, the mixtape. The main thing that helped Woods attain notoriety often feels like a curse.
Go to YouTube and type in his name, and the headline pops up: “Seventh Woods Is The BEST 14 Year Old In The Country!”
It is indeed jaw-dropping to click on the video and watch Woods humiliate an opponent with a crossover on his way to the basket for a flush, or to see him swish fallaway threes in the face of a defender.
Woods looks like a grown man in the footage, but he’s only 14.
The video went viral upon its release, making Woods a national celebrity before he could even get into an R-rated movie. Some coaches fear that the hoopla surrounding the video may have put a ridiculous amount of pressure on Woods, and that his game could be affected because of it.
"Too many people these days—and I'm talking about coaches, recruiting analysts and fans—put too much stock in the wrong thing," said one assistant coach whose school is recruiting Woods. "Who cares if there's a spliced-up videotape out there of a guy dunking and crossing people over. That doesn't tell me what kind of player he is.
"You've got to get out there and watch him with your own eyes. How well does he understand the game? What kind of a teammate is he? How does he react when he makes a shot or misses a shot? What's his body language like? You've got to put in the time scouting to get a true feel for someone's game. I couldn't care less about his mixtape."
Rivals.com recruiting analyst Eric Bossi said the attention surrounding Woods has thrust the guard into an uncomfortable scenario. Woods is soft-spoken and often comes across as shy. He declined the invitation to appear on Jimmy Kimmel's show and turned down Ellen DeGeneres, too.
“It puts him in a weird position,” Bossi said. “He’s created this gigantic buzz because of what he can do, but he kind of just wants people to leave him alone and let him play. It’d be great if he could find a way to operate in the the middle of those extremes.”
Woods is attempting to come out of his shell.
Woods said he was more vocal than ever during games with his AAU team in April and May, when Bossi said it was obvious Woods was trying to get his teammates the ball, even in situations when he could’ve scored on his own.
While some analysts feel Woods needs to show more fire, one head coach who is recruiting the Hammond (South Carolina) High School standout said any criticisms of Woods are overblown.
"I love everything about him," the coach said. "I don't see any red flags. With his personality...you can't force someone to change who they are. He's a little more quiet and stoic, and that's fine. Watch him in the huddle. He's talking to his teammates and encouraging them. He's just not animated about it.
"He could average 30 points a game if he wanted to, but instead he's making a concerted effort to be a team player. I love the kid."
Whatever the case, players can always improve, and Woods is intent on developing other parts of his game. Bossi said he hopes Woods’ on-court demeanor doesn’t come to mirror his passive nature off it. He said Woods just needs to relax and play with a free mind instead of worrying about the opinions of college coaches and scouts.
“He’s trying to play disciplined basketball and make the right decisions,” Bossi said. “He’s focusing so hard on trying to be a true point guard that, at times, it’s almost to his detriment because it’s making him a little bit passive.
“Maybe he needs to unlock some of the stuff that’s so popular on YouTube. Maybe he needs to play with a little more reckless abandon and aggressiveness, because he has physical tools that most high school players can’t touch. With his tools, it would be OK for him to take some risks and force the action at times.”
Woods won't be able to put that advice to use anytime soon. He had surgery in late June to repair a fractured wrist, an injury that has kept him off the court ever since.
Woods, who turns 16 on Aug. 7, has certainly made the most of his time off.
Even though he was unable to compete, Woods attended Steph Curry’s elite camp in Oakland last month so he could pick up pointers from the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star guard. Camp organizers—especially Curry—were impressed that Woods flew across the country for the event even though he couldn't participate.
"Of course I'd like to be out there playing, but I'm still picking up some things," Woods said. "(Curry) has given me a lot of pointers, like how to do a better job of staying in front of my man and how to attack better."
Woods also hasn't abandoned his AAU teammates while he recuperates from his injury, as he can almost always be found sitting next to Williamson on the bench, soaking up information.
“It’s given me a new perspective on things,” Woods said. “I’m learning a lot. In some ways this could’ve been a blessing in disguise.”
College coaches don’t seem all that concerned with Woods' injury, as Williamson said he has continued to field recruiting calls even though his star isn’t playing. And although there may be questions about his game at the moment, it appears there are plenty of schools that are confident Woods will improve in multiple areas before he reaches the next level.
North Carolina, Clemson, South Carolina and Wichita State are among the schools that have shown the most interest.
“We’re a long way from seeing him max out,” Williamson said. “His ceiling is extremely high because he still has a lot to learn from a game standpoint. As he continues to grow and learn the game, you’ll see him do some other things that will wow some people.”
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.
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