Last Wednesday, Royce Woolridge achieved his dream of signing to play college basketball at the highest level when he filled out a national letter of intent binding him to play at Kansas. While some have doubted the 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Phoenix (Ariz.) Sunnyslope, his summer coach Kenny Mullins of the Arizona Magic has long been one of the high scoring guard's biggest advocates.
Mullins has always thought highly of the future Jayhawk, even if Woolridge was kicking his team's tail during the early stages of his development.
"He was on one of our rival teams in like sixth or seventh grade so we always played against him and he would kick our butts," said Mullins. "So in the eighth grade we got to AAU Nationals and his team wasn't going so his mom wanted me to take him. We kind of had our team set and I put him on the team as our sixth man and he led the team in scoring."
"He had intangibles that you couldn't teach. He was tough, he was coachable and he worked hard."
Ever since that switch, Woolridge –--who is the son of long time NBA'er Orlando Woolridge and the half brother of Tennessee sophomore Rolando Woolridge -- has been playing for Mullins and working on his game. While Woolridge's God given gifts have always stood out to his coach, it's the budding prospect's aptitude for learning the game and desire to improve on a daily basis that has most impressed Mullins.
"I can't say it enough, he's a sponge and he wants to work hard. You teach him something and he picks it up right away and tries to perfect it," said Mullins of Woolridge and how his work has led to success. "He's a lot hungrier than the guys his age but he's so smart. He's also got that pedigree and a lot of things that God gave him. I knew that it was going to happen, I didn't know it would happen that fast but that's the way the recruiting game is."
While Woolridge's ability to put up big numbers on the basketball court earned him the opportunity to commit to Kansas during the end of his sophomore year, Mullins is quick to point out that Jayhawks are getting a complete person. As good as he is on the floor, young Royce may be even better off of it.
"A lot of it is the community that he's surrounded by and the kids that he goes to school with, the kids he hangs with aren't looking to get into trouble," Mullins told Phog.Net. "It comes down to how smart he is and how he's had the correct people around him. He's not going out trying to cause mischief. He's not trying to let girls run his life. He's real focused."
"The biggest part is his mother (Victoria Woolridge). She's real protective of him because he's her only child and she wants to make sure that he makes the right decisions in life."
An excellent ball handler who is equally comfortable going to his right or left, Woolridge is quite adept at creating space for his own shot. At the rim, he's able to use his explosion to the rim and strong shoulders to finish against stronger players and when he gets it rolling from deep.
However, Kansas coaches demand a lot out of their players and have asked that Woolridge focus on a few areas of his game. In particular, they want him to be more of a pure shooter who can score without the use of the dribble
"Coach Self wants him to work on learning to catch and shoot and score without the ball," said Mullins. "We've been working on a lot of his spacing and where he catches the ball on the floor. There's a lot of tricks you can learn for using your body to get position on the player to make things easier on yourself."
With his senior season still to go, Woolridge is continuing to evolve as a player. Looking back, Mullins is glad that he was able to get the future Jayhawk to come play for him and sees a kid that hasn't surprised him by making it this far. Even better, he sees a kid who is prepared to do what it takes in order to make an impact at Kansas.
"He's made to become a basketball player. He's made for this and he's ready to become what he can be. That's why I love him so much," said Mullins. "What's so cool to me is that this kid is so skilled but he knows that he needs to get better. He knows that he's going to play for the number one program in the nation and what it takes."