Shortly before the the world wondered what the heck happened at Meijer, the Kentucky basketball world spent the early summer months in a tizzy as they debated the possibility of Tony Woods landing in Lexington as a John Calipari rehabilition project. And while we may never know what went down in Meijer that day after the new job, the answer to the great Tony Woods Debate of 2011 is starting to take shape.
By now, we all know Woods’ story. Five-star player out of high school that spent two somewhat disappointing seasons at Wake Forest before leaving school after allegedly breaking his girlfriend’s spine in a domestic dispute. Woods committed to Louisville, inciting a million jokes from this side of the rivalry, before opening things up and really getting close to becoming a Cat. I mean, really, really close.
So, naturally, when you throw top recruit + domestic violence + Louisville and Kentucky + long summer months into your nerd-fighting formula, you’ll come out with one of the most polarizing subjects KSR has ever seen. If you thought Kentucky should pass on him, you were a heartless racist. If you thought he deserved a chance at UK, it was because you thought beating up women was cooler than Freddie Jackson sipping a milkshake in a snowstorm. Great nerd-fights don’t allow for any middle ground and everyone trolls extra hard. And that was the case with Tony Woods this summer.
And adding to the spice was the almost weekly changes in his status. He was coming.* He wasn’t coming.* He was coming after he finished his school work.* He wasn’t coming at all.* People close to Woods were linking him to UK and then singing a different tune as soon as the next day. And in the end, the Cats seemed to back off (possibly driven by the reaction of the fans) and Woods ended up selling his soul to the Swoosh and signing with Oregon. Heartless Racists 1, Fans of Domestic Violence 0.
So what’s happened with Tony Woods since you last called a fellow Cat fan a wife-beater in the KSR comments section? Not a whole lot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s averaging 6.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and is shooting 52% from the field in about 17 minutes per game. The Ducks are 10-4 and could fight their way into contention in a downright terrible PAC-12 conference. More importantly, he hasn’t gotten into any trouble and absolutely no one is talking about his past issues or debating whether or not he deserves to be wearing a Division-1 uniform. Tony Woods is just being Tony Woods and enjoying (I assume) playing college basketball and a return to normalcy.
And Kentucky? Well, the Cats are the second-best team in the country according to the coaches and the media, two of the more credible demographics in the world, and the team that Jeff Goodman called Calipari’s best in terms of talent and character seems to be rolling along as a band of bros. Could they find room for a 250-pound center in the rotation? Maybe. But unless he can run the point and stretch the defense with his three-point shooting, I’m not sure Tony Woods would make that much of a difference at all.
But maybe the most important part of the Tony Woods story is that we all already forgot about him. This is a fanbase as impassioned as any non-violent group on the planet and the story that we all fought so fiercely about this summer has already faded out of our minds. And that’s exactly why this story has a happy ending. Kentucky really didn’t need Tony Woods, but, more importantly, Tony Woods especially didn’t need Kentucky. I’m sure the bright lights and the glamour of UK were a sexy temptress for Woods and even if the staff here made the decision for him, ending up at Oregon was the right spot. And it’s not about points or rebounds or blocked shots. It’s about getting a second chance that doesn’t come with asterisks or qualifiers. It’s about being a part of the team and not being a media-driven distraction. At Kentucky, no matter how great his behavior was or how many times Calipari sang his praises, he was still going to be a headline. Now, he’s just another college basketball player. And if Woods does end up as a guy the national media is writing about, it’s because he will have earned it and because there will be a new story to tell, not just because he decided to play basketball at Kentucky for John Calipari.
So, yes, the season is still early, but I think we’re already seeing the start of a happy ending to the Tony Woods story. And at the very least, we’ve all stopped fighting with each other around here and lobbing over-the-top insults at each other. Which reminds me…
….how about that Barack Obama?
*That’s what she said.