There’s no next game on the schedule. There’s no team jersey to wear. All C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods have are basketballs, gyms and time.
For the two former Ohio State players, the first offseason of their careers without specific goals to practice for is allowing them to focus on themselves.
“It’s a lot more personal,” Jackson said. “In the past couple summers and leading up to this time period, you’re just working out to see what you can do and what you can add little by little to help the team be a little more successful than the year before. Now it’s more personal and you don’t really know where you’ll end up at this point, so you’re just trying to get yourself in the best shape and best physically and mentally ready as you can.”
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The same period one year ago was drastically different for Woods. Although Jackson was approaching his third and final season with the Buckeyes, Woods was preparing for his third collegiate team after joining Ohio State as a graduate transfer from Wake Forest — he played at Charlotte as a freshman. On an inexperienced team that needed leadership, he would be counted on to help the Buckeyes try to navigate their way back to the NCAA Tournament.
That meant a summer of doing his best to mold his talents into what would best help the Buckeyes instead of simply molding his talents.
“It’s a great feeling, because when the summer comes I don’t really have to factor in, ‘Do my teammates like me? Do my coaches like me? Is everything going as smoothly as it should? Should I do more? Should I do less?’ ” Woods said. “I can really solely focus on me and getting better in every aspect of my game.”
The process of jelling with the Buckeyes lasted well into last season, Woods said, and it showed with how he closed the year. After averaging 6.8 points through the first 29 games, Woods averaged 14.5 in his final six to help a team dealing with a suspension and injuries secure one of the final bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Jackson, meanwhile, ended his career as a 1,000-point scorer for the Buckeyes after spending his first collegiate season playing junior college basketball in Florida while dealing with multiple injuries that limited his effectiveness down the stretch.
“You go through the Big Ten season, you expect some nicks and bruises, but when you’re not able to be yourself sometimes it’s kind of frustrating, especially when it’s your last year,” he said.
Now both players are aiming for professional careers. Neither received an invitation to the NBA combine, the Portsmouth Invitational or the Professional Basketball Combine, the last of which was attended by Ohio State's Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams last season. Woods and Jackson have hired agents and said they are planning to play professional basketball wherever they can for as long as they can.
Woods landed a workout with the Charlotte Hornets. Maybe an NBA team will extend a summer league invitation to him or Jackson. Last season, Tate didn’t land a workout until the final week before the draft, and he wound up with four of them and a spot on a summer league roster.
“The excitement comes from you finally being able to get paid for what you’ve been doing your whole life,” Woods said. “I’ve always been an underdog. It ain’t like I’ve ever been recruited so high. Everything that I’ve accomplished, everything I’ve been able to do I’ve had to earn and work my way from the bottom up so this situation for me is no different.”
Added Jackson: “The goal right now is to see if I can make a summer league team and go out there and get back to the basics, kind of how I was before I came here: proving myself to people that might not think I can do it. Just do it for myself. I want to see what I’m capable of and what I’m made of in this time period that I’ve put myself in position to and I’ve worked so hard for.”