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Woodward stays put at Rhode Island, despite team’s struggles

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Brian Woodward can only sit back and laugh.

He finished his high school career on top of the world, leading his team to the PSAL city championship at Madison Square Garden, but since he has been at the University of Rhode Island, the former Cardozo standout has had a nightmarish two years.

The 6-foot-3 guard has seen it all happen to him, from academic ineligibility to a reoccurring knee injury and has played a grand total of eight games in two seasons.

“It’s been hard, but I just have to deal with it,” Woodward said. “Hopefully something good comes out of it. I just have to keep on going, moving on. I just take it day by day.”

For one of the few times in his seasons of discontent, Woodward is completely healthy and he will be counted on by new Rams head coach Jim Baron to carry a Rhode Island team that will likely struggle mightily.

“They’re depending on me to hold the team up, be a leader for the team and all,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to take on the job because they respect me and they know what I can do out on the court. I feel comfortable about it.”

Woodward was optimistic about his choice of schools after graduating from Cardozo in June 1999. After all, a month earlier — on a Lamar Odom buzzer-beater — Rhode Island won the Atlantic-10 title and advanced to the NCAA tournament.

At the time, Odom was returning to URI, or so Woodward though, and with Long Island Panthers teammate Zach Marbury, as well as Tavorris Bell joining Woodward, the Rams incoming class looked promising.

Odom would not be back, as he was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1999 NBA Draft. Nor was head coach Jim Harrick, who was a major reason Woodward chose Rhode Island over state rival Providence. Harrick bolted for the University of Georgia.

“I thought I was going into something good,” he said. “But then Lamar left and I couldn’t play. Everything just went downhill ever since I’ve been there.”

Woodward was forced to red shirt his freshman year after being ruled academically ineligible. He was 1/2 a math credit shy.

“[Rhode Island] didn’t tell me until October when I was up there and it was too late for me to do anything,” Woodward said. “If I would’ve known when I graduated Cardozo then I could have taken it in summer school or something like that. I was home all summer.”

Ron Naclerio, Woodward’s coach at Cardozo, said the University of Rhode Island did not check on Woodward’s academic standing until after he left the Bayside school.

“A lot of kids go to Division I schools and once they announce, the school comes in and works with the [high school] advisor,” Naclerio said. “Providence was doing that with Brian, but once he chose Rhode Island, [Providence] backed off. URI never came in once to Cardozo, expect to see one game.”

Woodward struggled with having to be away from the court his freshman year, but he was determined to show new head coach Jerry DeGregorio, who was Harrick's assistant, that he could play Division I ball.

In his collegiate debut, Woodward registered a double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in Rhode Island’s season-opening 86-81 win over Fairfield. Things were looking up.

But four minutes into the team’s next game, Woodward went down with a sprained right knee and would miss the next eight games. He returned to the hardwood Dec. 26 and had 16 points in 35 minutes of an 87-76 loss at Connecticut and registered 17 points and six assists two days later in an 81-77 win over Siena. But Woodward would re-injure his right knee against Hartford on Dec. 30 and once again he was forced to sit out.

“I just said ‘Forget it, I’m going to red shirt,’” said Woodward, who tore his tore his left anterior cruciate ligament his junior year at Cardozo, missing out on critical summer league play, leading to a slew of Division I schools backing off his recruitment. “I started practicing again, we had three games left and the coaches wanted me to play. I said no because I thought I was going to get the year back, but they called the NCAA and said I couldn’t get the year back.”

After missing 14 games, Woodward led the Rams to back-to-back wins to cap the regular season, scoring 15 points and grabbing six boards in a 86-75 win over Duquesne and scoring 16 points with seven rebounds in a 79-74 win at Fordham. He then scored a team-high 18 points in Rhode Island's season-ending 85-59 loss to Dayton in the first round of the Atlantic-10 tournament, as Rhode Island finished a dreadful 2000-01 season with a 7-23 record.

The tournament loss was the last for DeGregorio, who announced a month earlier he would not be back after compiling a 12-47 record in two seasons. While Woodward knew his coach would leave, he didn’t know that two of the team’s top returnees, Marbury and Bell, would be gone too. Both left Rhode Island after the season to pursue professional basketball aspirations. Both would have been academically ineligible as well.

“I don’t really think they liked school because they hardly went when they were there,” Woodward said. “I guess they felt this was the best time for them to leave and plus the coach [left] and they were real tight with him and they didn’t know how the new coach would be.”

Marbury and Bell weren’t the only ones who didn’t make the grade. Andre Scott, a talented freshman big man, and Marcus Evans, a junior and the only other player on the team taller than 6-foot-8, will also miss the first semester and possibly the entire season because of grades. Forward Lazare Adingono is also gone, as the native of Cameroon transferred to Xavier College in Louisiana.

New head coach Jim Baron went the junior college rout to get some much-needed size, but learned this month that 6-foot-7 Chaz Briggs was not accepted by the school. He became the second of Baron’s five recruits who won’t play for the Rams.

Earlier in July, Baron and his staff received final word that Dawan Robinson, a guard from Philadelphia who played at Maine Central Institute last season, failed to meet the NCAA’s academic standards for freshman participation.

The three remaining recruits — high school guards Dustin Hellenga and Jamaal Wise and junior college forward Troy Wiley — will join Woodward, point guard Dinno Daniels, Steve Mello and Howard Smith as the players who will make up the Rams roster next year.

Academic eligibility wasn’t the only problem Baron had to deal with during the summer, as the team also learned assistant coach Shawn Hood was reportedly charged with inappropriately touching a 9-year-old girl. He reportedly pleaded not guilty on two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and was freed on $1,500 cash bail. The University of Rhode Island placed Hood on administrative leave pending the outcome of the school’s investigation into the allegations.

Knowing Rhode Island is likely to have another long year, Woodward also thought of leaving, joining Harrick at the University of Georgia.

“I was thinking about it, but I might just have one year if I go there because I’m going to have to sit out and I sat out too many times already,” he said. “I figured if I stay here I got three more years left. Hopefully something good will come out of the three years I have left.”

Woodward spoke to Naclerio, his mother and brother Duane, who was also a standout at Cardozo and had a solid collegiate career at Boston College, about staying at Rhode Island. When he finally made the decision that he would not transfer, it was one of the few pieces of good news Baron received this summer.

“He’s an outstanding player. I know Brian can score, shoot, take the ball to the basket. He could be an outstanding defensive player,” Baron said from Las Vegas, where he was watching potential recruits at the Adidas Big Time tournament. “I’m real pleased with his with his attitude. The big thing for him is to stay healthy.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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