With numbers low, Keyshawn Woods pitching in to help Ohio State practice

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes guard Keyshawn Woods (32) looks for a pass guarded by Northwestern Wildcats forward Miller Kopp (10) in the second half of their game at Schottenstein Arena in Columbus, Ohio on February 20, 2019. OSU beat Northwestern 63-49. [Brooke LaValley/Dispatch]

Ohio State was in need of assistance. Keyshawn Woods was looking for an opportunity.

For a second time in four years, the two sides found each other. With injuries and illness thinning their backcourt depth, the Buckeyes have taken advantage of a little-known rule that has allowed them to bring Woods in for some short-term practice duties.

For about 10 practice days, Woods is a de facto Buckeye again.

“It’s felt amazing,” Woods told The Dispatch.” It brought back some great memories that I had, playing at Ohio State the year I got with my teammates.”

It took a few events to put this sequence into motion. A freshman at the University of Charlotte in 2014-15, Woods transferred to Wake Forest when coach Alan Major (who had spent six years as an assistant at Ohio State) was fired and played there through the 2017-18 season when he opted to transfer for his final season of college basketball.

That brought him to the Buckeyes, where coach Chris Holtmann was entering his second season and in need of some veteran help in the backcourt. Woods’ experience, gritty play and, eventually, clutch shot-making ability helped Ohio State reach the NCAA Tournament and advance to the second round despite earning a No. 11 seed.

Most recently, Woods has been playing professionally in Poland until a knee injury in October prematurely ended his time there. He returned to the Columbus area, where he now lives during the offseason, and sought the medical advice of Dr. Grant Jones, the team’s physician who is in his 26th season as an Ohio State orthopedic surgeon.

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Woods was cleared to resume basketball activities roughly two weeks ago. Ohio State, already down guard Meechie Johnson Jr. due to a facial fracture and concussion suffered Jan. 11, has had the ranks thinned further during a nine-day layoff in between games.

Enter Woods.

“Coach Holt’s been allowing me to use this as an opportunity for conditioning and getting my feel back but also in the process I’m helping them out too because they haven’t had guys,” he said. “Pretty much, whatever they need me to do, I’m doing. Anything I can do to get on the court, get in shape, run up and down, move lateral, all of that.”

Graduate transfer guard Jamari Wheeler suffered a foot injury in Ohio State’s last game, a Jan. 18 blowout of visiting IUPUI, and Woods said he’s been out. It’s not a long-term injury, The Dispatch has learned, but he’s had to miss practice time. The same goes for Malaki Branham, whom Woods said returned to practice Monday after missing a couple of days. As everyone works their way back to action, Woods is doing the same.

Two former teammates remain on the roster: fifth-year graduate forward Kyle Young and fourth-year wing Justin Ahrens, both captains.

“To see the growth that they’ve had since I was there, that’s one of the things I’m real happy about,” Woods said. “Justin leading and being a captain is one thing I never thought I’d see, but he’s actually doing it and he’s really good at it.”

He’s also gotten to actually spend time with a new generation of players Woods had previously only seen on television.

“It’s good to see E.J. (Liddell) in practice, getting to see Zed (Key), not just watching them on TV when I’m overseas,” he said. “Actually getting to see the work that they put in and how hard they’re working. Eugene (Brown). Eugene. All of them. They’ve really got a good group of guys that really work hard, and they stay after and shoot and work out after practice. They’re there before practice. They’ve got a great group of guys that work and really want to get better.”

Woods is allotted around 10 practice days with the Buckeyes, and his participation was vetted by David Egelhoff, the team’s director of basketball operations. According to NCAA bylaw 14.2.1.7, in sports other than football former-student athletes may participate in organized practices on an occasional basis provided the institution does not publicize the participation of the former player at any time before the practice sesson. According to Ohio State's compliance office, the Big Ten has "been comfortable" with that meaning 12 times a year. While in practice, Woods said the team’s coaching staff has been pushing him like he was still an active participant on the roster. His first day was last Thursday, and Monday was his fourth practice day.

All of this, from the medical assistance to the opportunity to work back into shape with the team, has been extended to a player who was with the program for less than one calendar year. Woods said that hasn’t been lost on him.

“I’m just real thankful for Doc Jones and coach Holtmann, giving me the opportunity he’s giving me to get myself back healthy so I can go back and play when I’m healthy,” he said. “That’s part of the Buckeye family, them understanding what it is to really be a Buckeye. I think it’s a good example for those whose season may be their last year, to understand they’re always welcome back.”

Being back around the college game has made Woods feel youthful, he said, even as some familiar nicknames have been trotted out.

“They like to call me the old head, old man,” he said. “They were giving me that even when I was in college, so I feel like that’s going to stick with me no matter how young or old I am, quite honestly.”

Woods, who turns 26 on Friday, plans to be fully cleared within the next week or so and sign an overseas contract to finish out the season.

ajardy@dispatch.com

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