Wood gets another shot at Michigan State

Jason King

When his team wasn't playing, Brandon Wood spent many nights during his career at Valparaiso curled up on his couch watching college basketball games.

"I'd come home from practice, turn on the TV and see some of the top players in the country in these big-time atmospheres," Wood said Tuesday. "I knew that I could do what they were doing."

It won't be long until Wood gets that chance.

Wood – a 6-foot-2 combo guard who averaged 16.7 points as a junior last season – has transferred to Michigan State and will be eligible to play for the Spartans this season. NCAA rules allow schools to apply for a waiver that would let a transfer play immediately if they've earned a degree, have eligibility remaining and enroll in a graduate-level program.

Wood was awarded his diploma from Valparaiso last month. Monday was his first day of graduate school at Michigan State, where he's studying advertising.

"It's a great opportunity," Wood said, "to play for one of the greatest college basketball programs ever."

Beneficial as the transfer will be for Wood, who aspires to play professionally, the move should also provide a boost for Michigan State.

The Spartans lost one of their main offensive weapons in Kalin Lucas, a four-year starter at point guard. And coach Tom Izzo dismissed guard Korie Lucious from the team in January. Had it not landed Wood, Michigan State would've faced some serious obstacles when it came to experience and depth in its backcourt.

Michigan State is adding some talented recruits including four-star shooting guard Dwaun Anderson. But Wood's' arrival will take some pressure off of the newcomers in their first season.

"We were in a little bit of a unique situation in that when we signed our incoming freshman class, we expected Korie Lucious to be a part of this year's team," Izzo said. "After Korie's dismissal, we were in a position where we could take a talented, experienced guard for one season and not have it affect either the incoming freshmen or the future classes.

"We've lost some pretty good guards in the last year and a half, but Brandon adds some versatility and depth to help strengthen our backcourt."

Wood, who began his career at Southern Illinois, earned first-team all-conference honors in the Horizon League last season. Even though most of his games were against smaller schools, it's not as if Wood hasn't excelled on a big stage. He had 20 points against Purdue last season and dropped 30 on North Carolina in 2009. That same year, Wood scored 24 points in a loss against his future team, Michigan State.

"Coach Izzo talked to me after the game in the handshake line," Wood said. "I shot 7-for-18 that night. I had good numbers but not a good shooting percentage. He told me I missed some shots that he knows I can make. He said, 'Just keep shooting and keep playing hard and good things will happen.'"

At the time, though, Izzo and Wood couldn't have foreshadowed how things would eventually unfold.

Wood entered the NBA draft at the end of last season but withdrew before going through any individual workouts. Wood said he loved his experience at Valpo but, with his degree in hand, he wanted to test himself in one of the country's top conferences.

Wood said longtime Crusaders coach Homer Drew didn't stand in his way.

"Playing at Valpo, I was under the radar a little bit," he said, "but my experience there was great. They put me in a position to take advantage of this opportunity that has been placed before me. I take my hat off to them. They get all the credit I can give up. They helped me get better and grow, both as a man and spiritually."

Wood also considered Tennessee and Purdue but, after a visit to East Lansing, his mind was made up.

"It was a no-brainer," Wood said. "Once I came up here with my family and saw the facilities and met the coaches and players, it just felt right. Coach Izzo kept it real with me from the beginning. He didn't sugarcoat it or make any guarantees about minutes. He just said if I earn it like he thinks I can – and like I know I can – then it will be a great opportunity for me."

Wood is expected to start in the backcourt alongside Keith Appling. Because they are each combo guards, Michigan State will have two players who can push the ball, lead a fastbreak and shoot the 3. Wood made 36 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season.

With Wood, Appling and returnees Draymond Green and Delvon Roe all in the starting lineup, the Spartans seem poised to rebound from last season's disappointing 19-15 finish. Izzo's squad went just 9-9 in league play and lost to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"It's a new year, a new team, a whole new look," Wood said. "We're constantly together with each other, whether it's in the gym or off the court. We're continuing to build our chemistry. Since I'm new they've really accepted me in. It's been a positive.

"Everyone is pushing each other real hard and working with each other in the weight room. I think it's a great group. It's going to be a great year."