Don’t expect a busy week in the news to change Robert Woodard Jr.
On Monday, the Columbus High School 6-foot-5 freshman was named to the MaxPreps.com Boys Basketball Freshman Five.
If things could get any better, they did Thursday when Woodard Jr. was named one of 27 of the nation’s top male basketball players 16 years old and younger and was added to the 2015-16 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team.
That honor comes on the heels of Woodard Jr.’s participation in a USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team mini camp last October in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Woodard Jr. said he discovered he was named to the MaxPreps.com Freshman Five team on Monday. He said he learned last month that he would be one of the 27 players invited to compete for spots on the Men’s Junior National Team.
“I felt I did pretty well (in October),” Woodard Jr. said. “I hung in with the bigger guys and tried to see how I matched up against them.”
Woodard said the camp featured freshmen to seniors, so it was a unique opportunity for him to compete against some of the nation’s best players. He said he tried not to think about if he would be asked back to participate for a spot on a USA basketball squad. When he found out last month, though, he admitted he was surprised he received a second invitation.
Woodard Jr. was a fourth-team All-State pick by The Clarion-Ledger. He averaged 15 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Falcons, who finished 22-6.
Sammy Smith coached Woodard Jr. this past season on the Columbus High boys basketball team. He said Woodard Jr. never took a play off in practice or in a game. He said that work ethic carries over to Woodard Jr.’s school work and to his relationships with his teammates and his peers.
“He came in and exceeded all expectations,” Smith said. “He was a leader, he played hard, he took coaching, and he did everything we wanted him to do to put himself in a position he would get better each minute.”
Smith has been coaching long enough and in enough places to know Woodard Jr. is special not only because of his basketball skills, but also because of everything else in his life.
“He has the it factor,” Smith said when asked to compare Woodard Jr. to other freshmen he has seen. “He is coachable and is willing to take every day to get better. I don’t think he had a lull during the season at all. The sky is the limit. On top of that, I think his desire and determination to be the whole person supersedes the basketball part.”
Woodard Jr. credits his father, Robert Sr., who played basketball at Mississippi State, and his mother Velma, for setting the example and the standards he lives by on and off the court. He said he hasn’t been fazed by a trip to the CP3 Rising Stars Camp in August or the initial trip to Colorado Springs. He said the latest news also won’t cause him to lose his focus because he understands he has to work hard every day because nothing will be given to him.
“This is just the beginning,” Woodard Jr. said. “I have a lot to work on and to improve on. I just hope I will be able to get better over the years and bring more to the table.
“The main thing is just staying humble and not letting it faze me. I just want to keep doing what I am doing and try to get better every step of the way.
The 2015 USA U16 National Team and 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team, should the U.S. qualify for the U17 Worlds, will be made up of USA Junior National Team members. The USA Junior National Team roster will be fluid and athletes may be added in the next two years. The athlete selections were made by the USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team Committee.
Michael Barber, of The Veritas School in Jackson, also was selected.
Members of the 2015-16 USA Junior National Team will train May 28-June 6 in Colorado Springs. The final 12-player USA U16 National Team selection will be made prior to the team departing for Bahia Blanca, Argentina, for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship. Scheduled for June 10-14, the U16 tournament serves as the Americas zone qualifier for the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship, with the top four finishing nations from the FIBA Americas U16 Championship advancing to the 2014 U17 Worlds.
Marvin Bagley III, a 6-9 forward from Tempe, Arizona, was named the MaxPreps.com National Freshman of the Year.
Jordan Brown, a 6-9 forward from Roseville, California; Foster Loyer, a 5-11 guard from Clarkston, Michigan; and Javonte Smart, a 6-3 guard from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; round out the team.
Jackson Callaway High’s Malik Newman, a senior forward who reportedly is going to sign today with MSU, was named MaxPreps.com’s National Freshman of the Year in 2012.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.