Sports

Woods a long way from the NBA, but even further from giving up

This setback – an elbow to the lip – was seemingly the final blow to his dream.

As players raced up and down the basketball court in the final tryout game in Los Angeles, a bloodied Gio Woods sat in the trainer’s room as a doctor quietly stitched the gash. Woods’ tooth pierced through his lip.

Woods, one of 200 players from across the country invited to the tryout, missed all but 10 minutes of the fourth and final game at the tryout for the NBA’s development league.

“I just wanted the doctor to hurry so I could get back into the game,” Woods said.

You can’t wow a scout when you’re not in the game. But Woods, a second-team all-league pick his senior season at River Ridge High when he averaged 18 points, knows something about resilience.

Whether it’s an elbow to the mouth or an oversight by a coach or a fan, Woods has always had a knack for survival. His dream – to play basketball professionally – has taken plenty of shots.

But the dream lives. Despite the mouth injury that cost him most of a game, Woods was one of the 40 players chosen from the tryout to be included in the NBA’s developmental league draft, which will be held in November.

“A lot of people said I wouldn’t make it,” Woods said. “My family always said strive hard and you’ll do it. I’ve never given up.”

He had reason to give up. Out of high school, Woods enrolled at The Evergreen State College. But after a year, Woods transferred to San Jose, a junior college, for a year. He then played the past two years at Central Washington, coming off the bench to average 9.5 points his senior year. But he started five games and was counted on for quick offense off the bench.

“They had a couple of guards transfer from Eastern Washington,” Woods said. “It was all right. I made the most of it.”

Nobody can question Woods’ heart.

Besides the NBA’s development league, Woods is also willing to sign with a pro team in Europe. Until then, he’s playing in a Seattle league organized by Jamal Crawford, a guard with the Golden State Warriors. Earlier in the summer, Woods trained in Atlanta and Detroit, catching pickup games with NBA players.

“It showed me I could compete at that level,” Woods said.

In June, Woods hired Mike Lelchitski as his agent. Now, Woods waits for the phone to ring, clinging to a dream.

“It could be tomorrow, it could be next week or next month,” Woods said. “I’ll go wherever the best opportunity comes.”

Johnson watch

The word is out on Zach Johnson.

After earning honorable mention All-Big Sky as a freshman linebacker at Eastern Washington last season, Johnson, a Tumwater grad, is one of three EWU players named to the preseason all-conference team selected by the media.

Johnson led the Eagles in tackles last season with 96 and had a team-best seven pass breakups. Johnson’s twin brother, Matt, had 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions as a strong safety.

The Johnson twins were the Eagles’ top two tacklers.

EWU’s two other preseason all-conference picks are wide receiver Aaron Boyce and offensive tackle Chris Thomas.

Zach Johnson’s 96 tackles rank 20th in school history and were third best in the Big Sky last season.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443

gwood@theolympian.com

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