Michigan State's backcourt experience, maturity and scoring ability was given a major boost on Friday when Brandon Wood announced that he is transferring from Valparaiso University to Michigan State for his senior year.
The 2011 first-team All-Horizon League player will be eligible immediately, and is expected to help the Spartans begin to reload the backcourt after the graduation of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers.
Wood, 6-2, 185, will graduate from Valparaiso on May 17 with a degree in sports marketing and business. Having a degree in hand, and one year of eligibility remaining, Wood is allowed, per NCAA rules, to transfer to another Division I school without sitting out. The rule allows a student-athlete to transfer and begin graduate school in an area of study not offered at his previous school.
Wood averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last year for a Valpo team that went 23-12 and lost in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. He shot 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range.
Wood took an official visit to Michigan State on Monday, and called Spartan head coach Tom Izzo on Thursday, after finishing two final exams, to give a verbal commitment. Michigan State was not able to officially extend a scholarship offer until Valpo released Wood from his scholarship, which took place late this week.
"I just called him and told him straight-forward, 'I want to come play for your next year,'" Wood said.
"He said, 'Are you sure? Are you fired up?'
"I said, 'I sure am.'
"He said, 'Well okay, let's make it happen. Let's win.'"
"That's when it became official," Wood said. "Then we talked about how we were going to release it. It was like a team effort. Coach Drew and Coach Izzo talked to each other and we decided how we were going to do it."
Valparaiso University delivered the news with a press release on Friday.
"We are very pleased that Brandon will be graduating from Valparaiso University," Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew said in the press release. "He has had two wonderful years here where we saw him grow, both on the floor as a basketball player and off the floor as a person. We will miss him."
Wood went to his younger sister's place of work, Jamie's Soda Fountain in his hometown of Kokomo, Ind., to receive the scholarship form from Michigan State Friday afternoon. He signed it, and faxed it back to MSU immediately.
"I feel blessed to be where I'm at, where I'm from, representing my city with the opportunity I now have in front of me," Wood said. "I have to put out for my city."
Izzo offered these comments on Wood and Drew via a press release, Friday at 5 p.m.:
Released by MSU at 5 pm:
"Brandon Wood gives us a combo guard that's proven himself as a scorer against strong competition; scoring 30 against North Carolina, 24 against Michigan State and 20 or more against Purdue twice in the last two years. He's proven himself on the court, but also in the classroom as he'll receive his degree this month. I've also been impressed getting to know Brandon as a person, and I believe he'll be a great teammate as he, along with our incoming freshman class, blends in with our returning players.
"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, playing significant minutes. 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 future recruiting classes. We've lost some pretty good guards in the last year and a half, but Brandon adds some versatility and depth - along with the nucleus of the freshmen that we have coming in - to help strengthen our backcourt.
"I think all parties involved handled the process very well, but I'm especially appreciative of the way Coach Homer Drew handled things, even as he was losing a talented player. There's no doubt that Brandon comes from a well-coached program that's helped him grow not only as a player, but also as a man."
Wood sought to transfer from Valpo in order to improve himself as a player, and his pro potential, by facing bigger, more athletic guards in a major conference such as the Big Ten.
Wood contacted Michigan State and expressed his interest in considering MSU as a potential destination. Wood also sent letters of interest to Purdue, Indiana, Maryland, Providence, UConn, Tennessee and Florida State.
Michigan State had a need for a mature guard. The Spartans return only one guard with experience at the Division I level, rising sophomore Keith Appling. Next season, redshirt freshman Russell Byrd and incoming freshmen Travis Trice, Branden Dawson, Dwaun Anderson[db] and [db]Brandan Kearney are expected to play extended roles in a new-look backcourt.
Wood, in effect, replaces Lucious as the elder statesman of the backcourt, although he will be as new to East Lansing as the freshmen.
After receiving initial contact from Wood, Izzo spoke with Drew, gained Drew's blessing, and then began researching Wood's game and background.
"Coach Izzo talked to Coach Drew about how I am as a person, and how I am as a player," Wood said. "Hearing what Coach Drew had to say about me I think helped Coach Izzo get to know me better as a person on and off the court."
Wood and Drew are parting on an extremely friendly basis.
"It wasn't difficult, telling them that I was transferring," Wood said. "My relationship with Coach Homer Drew and Bryce Drew from day one has been honest about a lot of things. I knew that they would support my decision no matter what and they did. So I will continue to build my relationship with them as well. They will always be in my life. They partly produced me to be the player I am today and I owe them for that. They are good people. I really do love them. I love the Drews."
Izzo was familiar with Wood prior to this process, having coached against him in a victory over Valpo two years ago. Wood scored 24 points in a loss at MSU.
Also, new MSU assistant coach Dane Fife coached against Wood while at Indiana-Purdue/Fort Wayne this season. Fife also recruited Wood out of high school and junior college for IPFW.
Wood said Tennessee and Purdue sought to bring him in for official visits this week or next week, but he turned them down.
"I had a couple of options," Wood said. "I had a feeling that this was right for my family and I so I made the decision and am not going to regret it, no matter what. Everything happens for a reason and this is where God has placed me so I'm going to do whatever I can to the best of my ability.
"After my visit to Michigan State, I felt like I had seen all I needed to see."
Scoring Combo Guard
Wood is a streak shooter who averaged 17.7 points per game as a sophomore at Valpo in 2010, leading the Horizon League in scoring while being named second-team All-Horizon League and League Newcomer of the Year.
He averaged 24.5 points in three games in the Horizon League Tournament, helping Valpo advance to the semi-finals.
Wood once made 10 3-pointers in a high school game, a school record at Kokomo High.
As a true freshman at Southern Illinois, he scored 15 points in his first college game, against Northern Illinois. But he was sidelined with a stress fracture six games into the season and later transferred.
"Things didn't work out," said Wood's father, Anthony.
"I have been through a lot of things on and off the court that helped me become the man I am today," said Brandon Wood, who chose not to elaborate on his challenges.
Wood then played one year of junior college basketball at Highland (Ill.) Community College, where he averaged 16.1 points per game and shot 45 percent from the field.
During his first year at Valpo, he scored 20 or more on 12 occasions, including 30 against North Carolina and 39 against Georgia Southern.
Wood served as a shooting guard at Valpo. Izzo has told Wood that the Spartans will look to utilize him at shooting guard as well as point guard. Izzo has utilized Appling, Lucious and Lucas in similar fashion in recent years.
"He wants me to play both," Wood said. "A lot of people haven't seen me play the one, so they automatically think I can't play the one and run a team just because the personnel at my previous teams haven't allowed for me to do that. But he knows that I can handle the ball and I can run the team as well as score. He just wants to bring the best out in me and use me any way he can, and that would be at the one and the two.
"They expect me to play a big role next year. I'm a fifth-year senior, so I have been through a lot of things the younger guys have not been through. So they expect me to be a leader and just bring my game to the table, create for my teammates and myself and make plays and do whatever I can to work hard get us as many wins and championships as possible."
Wood has a smooth, right-handed jump shot, with the ability to connect from long range. At Valpo, he was not shy about going up from deep, or scoring with off-balance shots at medium range. With a solid build and good jumping ability, he is also an explosive finisher.
With a solid frame and good athleticism, Izzo told Wood that he has no doubt that Wood can play the type of defense that is expected and demanded at Michigan State.
Wood's scoring average dropped by about one point from his sophomore year to his junior year at Valpo, but he improved as an all-around player.
"I feel in the last year or so, I improved my ability to play hard, play longer, improve my work ethic," Wood said. "I take pride in preparing in practice and working out in the weight room. I put in so many hours, working with Coach Bryce Drew. He has been through what I'm trying to go through for my future, and he knows a lot and he has taught me a lot that I will continue to work on.
"I feel like I became a better leader and incorporating the small thing like encouraging my teammates and huddling my teammates up during free throws and dead balls and trying to keep us together and be a leader," he said. "I'm looking forward to doing that at Michigan State, trying to be a leader as well as producing for my teammates."
Wood met seniors Draymond Green, Delvon Roe and Austin Thornton during Monday's official visit. He has also spoken with Green on the phone.
"I have only met the seniors, but I look forward to meeting the rest of the team and building a friendship with them on and off the court," Wood said. "The seniors seem like good guys, guys like me, kind of laid back, staying behind the scenes a little bit, but wanting to win. I felt like I could bond with them well and I look forward to getting to know them and my other teammates."
Wood was asked what the 18-year-old version of himself would have said if he had been told that he would be playing at Michigan State as a fifth-year senior.
"That kid would have said, 'Hey, that's where I should be playing at a place like Michigan State, coming right out of high school, but I didn't happen to be in front of the right people to be able to do so,'" Wood said. "But after growing older I know better than that. I know now that coming out of high school I wasn't as ready and prepared as a man as I am now."
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