Wide open during a 3-on-2 fast break last weekend, Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard set up just a few steps off the deep left corner. He was wide open because the defense was shading to All-American Buddy Hield, who was in the middle of his late-game surge against VCU that pushed the Sooners into the Sweet 16.
Woodard took the pass, had time to check his feet and even aim his shot. The defense closed out, and Woodard pump faked. He drove to the basket and kicked to Hield for another wide-open look, which the Naismith frontrunner knocked down. Hield pointed to Woodard, who pointed back as they ran back down court.
“When Buddy’s hot you’ve gotta get him the ball,” Woodard said without mentioning how the first two NCAA Tournament games have been two of his best this season or that he carried the Sooners for the first 30 minutes against VCU before Hield got hot.
That’s how Woodard has been for much of his career. He follows his teammates.
Woodard came to Oklahoma and was asked to play point guard from Day 1 on a team with three other players who were a year older than Woodard and were ready to make their first impact in the starting lineup. Woodard was ready to play but saw himself as the little brother.
He still thinks of himself as the Sooners’ little brother, even though Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler all said he has never been a little brother to them – just a brother. They definitely don’t tease him like a little brother. Spangler jokingly said Woodard wouldn’t take that too well. Woodard still learns from the senior trio with whom he has started more than 100-straight games. But he is willing to step back into a passive role.
“He kind of defers to them a little bit,” Oklahoma assistant coach Chris Crutchfield said.
When Woodard first came to campus, he didn’t know whom to gravitate towards between Cousins and Hield, saying that both were far more outgoing than him – yes, even Cousins, who might be the most publicly docile player on the team.
Woodard tends to be a little quieter on and off the court. He never calls for the ball when he’s open. He directs the offense but rarely directs his teammates or scolds them.
“It was hard,” Woodard said of finding his place on the team. “College basketball is different. Those guys still tell me now things I can use to help me and help my game be better. I just try to listen to them because they’ve been here before. They always help my game.”
At this point, Woodard’s game is developed. He has become a consistent shooter – one who can knock down shots every game not just take the last one. Woodard has become a plus-defender, allowing Oklahoma to switch from the 1 to the 4 despite Woodard being just six feet tall.
As Oklahoma prepares for its Sweet 16 matchup against Texas A&M on Thursday, it’s time for Woodard to step into the spotlight. He’s the shooter who can take pressure off of Hield. He’s the defender who will have to fight through the mismatches against Texas A&M’s 6-foot-7 wing duo, something he has done all season and isn’t worried about.
In another sense, it’s finally Woodard’s time to shed that “younger brother” role he has dubbed himself with since he got to Oklahoma.
“We have our goals set on getting to Houston,” Woodard said. “The Sweet 16, we don’t take it for granted, but it’s been on larger scale this year.”
In the Big 12 Championship semifinals against West Virginia, Woodard sat on the bench and watched freshman Christian James help bring Oklahoma within seconds of advancing to the championship game. He wasn’t injured. And he wasn’t hurt by not playing.
After most home games this season, Woodard met with his high school coach Shane Cowherd, who came down for every game he could from Edmond. The two text and talk routinely. Cowherd talked with Woodard after that loss to the Mountaineers.
Cowherd still sees a lot of the same player he coached in high school – the one who was never afraid to take the game-winning shot and who won two state championships. But Cowherd also sees a lot of new traits: A consistent jumper that was developed this summer and elite positional defending skills, which allows Oklahoma to be more diverse with its defensive sets.
There’s one trait that has stuck around.
Playing time isn’t a worry for Woodard. Stats don’t matter. What has made Woodard excel at Oklahoma has been his willingness to fit into any role – from freshman point guard to junior counterbalance to one of the nation’s top scorers.
“Jordan doesn’t care,” Cowherd said. “Now, Jordan is a competitor. Jordan wants to be on the floor, but Jordan is a guy that whatever is needed for a team at that time to win, then that’s what he’s all about. . . . He doesn’t care about anything but winning, and he’s pretty stinking good at it.”