November 14, 2017 10:41:43 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The weight will be lifted off Robert Woodard II's shoulders today.
At 7:30 tonight, the Columbus High School senior will announce his college decision prior to the boys basketball team's game against Starkville.
Woodard, the state of Mississippi's reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, will decide between Alabama, Memphis, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss.
"I feel like (the weight) will be lifted (tonight)," Woodard said. "It has been a long process. I have enjoyed it, but now it is time to make a decision and get it out of the way and make the next step of my career."
Woodard smiled when he was asked if he "enjoyed" the recruiting process. He said the journey, which included plenty of unofficial visits and a recent official visit to Memphis, was "pretty tough" that featured a lot of long nights in which he stayed up to contemplate which school is the best for him. Woodard said he has tried to identify all of the positives of each school and to see the entire process "as a blessing" that will help him realize his ultimate goals.
As of 2:06 p.m. Monday, prior to the start of Columbus High's practice, Woodard said he hadn't made a decision.
Asked when he would pick a school, Woodard said, "Hopefully sometime tonight (Monday night)." When he was asked about the uncertainty the word "hopefully" cast over his answer, Woodard said, "It will hit me. I am pretty close. I feel like I know where I want to go."
Woodard, a 6-foot-7 forward, is a four-star recruit and is ranked 36th on ESPN's list of the top 100 players in the Class of 2018. He recently was named to The Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen, which recognizes the state of Mississippi's top players, for a third-straight season.
Last season, Woodard led Columbus to a 16-13 record and the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament last season. He averaged 25.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and three blocked shots per game. A first-team All-State selection last season, Woodard is a former member of the USA Basketball Men's Under-16 National Team. He also was named USA TODAY's ALL-USA Mississippi Player of the Year as a sophomore.
A member of the National Honor Society at Columbus High and a member of the Mayor's Youth Council in Columbus, Woodard has volunteered locally on behalf of the United Way and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Entering his senior season, Woodard had a weighted 4.11 grade-point average.
Woodard was saddled with foul trouble and had eight points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals Saturday in an 84-45 victory against Jefferson Davis County in the team's season opener at Quitman High.
The win was the first for Columbus High first-year head coach Anthony Carlyle. Columbus had a scheduled game against Itawamba Agricultural High canceled due to the fact the IAHS football team is still alive in the MHSAA football playoffs.
"The matchup played into our favor," Carlyle said. "They are more of a pressing type of team. We turned the ball over some, but I thought we did a good job with our press-breaker offense and were able to get a lot of easy layups, which is why we were able to score as many as we did."
Carlyle said he talked to coaching friends throughout the state when he learned IAHS might not be able to play so his team played a game prior to facing Starkville.
Carlyle said he liked how the starting five of Woodard, Greg King, RJ DeLoach, a transfer from Columbus Christian Academy, Aaron Johnson, another transfer, Casey Smith, a transfer from West Lowndes High, started and had a lot of energy, defended, and got out in transition for easy baskets. He praised the work of King (team-high 21 points) and Johnson (16 points) for hitting shots. He hopes showings like that will give those players confidence to know they can be scoring options if other Falcons aren't having big nights.
"We are trying to create a balanced approach so it can make us a lot better offensively," Carlyle said. "If they do try to stop one person, we have a couple of other guys who are more than capable of stepping up and making plays."
DeLoach had nine points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, Denijay Harris had nine points, and Smith had four points and five assists and only one turnover.
n In the first game of the doubleheader, the Columbus girls (3-0) will play host to Starkville (2-0).
Hannah White had 17 points Saturday to lead Columbus to a 40-36 victory against Jefferson Davis County. White has led the Lady Falcons in scoring all three games.
"Hannah is playing really well for us," Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston said. "She is getting some special attention (box-and-ones, triangle-and-two defenses) to her already. We are off to a 3-0 start, but none of that will matter (tonight). Starkville is the defending sate champions, and they are picked to be the 6A state champion next year."
Hairston said Columbus will try to learn valuable lessons to grow from by going against an experienced Starkville team. She believes the Lady Yellow Jackets will play tough defense, which should highlight areas her team needs to work on to get better.
On Friday, Kristie Williams' Lady Yellow Jackets received the MHSAA Class 6A State championship trophy after Olive Branch was determined to have played with an ineligible player.
n In other games Monday, the Victory Christian Academy boys beat Grace Christian Academy 80-55. Quin Williams had 31 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists, and four blocked shots. Solomon Hill had five points, 15 rebounds, and six blocked shots.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.