Honesty Leads Woods to the Palouse
PULLMAN, Wash. -- A little bit of honesty goes a long way, especially in recruiting. It worked for Kaia Woods, a freshman who joined the Washington State women's basketball team at the end of this past fall semester.
When Woods had the opportunity to enroll into WSU, she leapt at the chance because of head coach Kamie Ethridge's straight-shooting style and the reputation of the school.
"I wanted to go somewhere I could get a good education and be set up with life beyond basketball because one day that ball will stop dribbling," Woods said.
Her journey to WSU began after a tremendous prep career in Northwest Ohio. Woods, who is from Tiffin, Ohio, averaged 20.2 points, 7.6 steals and 5.6 assists per game through three high school seasons and was named her co-MVP of her league.
After her junior season, Woods decided to enroll into Royal Crown Academy, a prep school in Toronto, Canada, to wrap up her high school career. Woods headed to Royal Crown with the hopes it would raise her recruiting profile, as the school had been known for producing high-level athletes. However, the COVID-19 pandemic would alter those plans, as Royal Crown canceled their 2020-21 season.
Originally thinking that transferring to a prep school would serve as a boon for her college recruiting, Woods now found herself alone in foreign country during a global pandemic. The year abroad taught her some valuable lessons about basketball and life.
Woods persevered through basketball by practicing with her Royal Crown teammates. She added a couple of points to her basketball IQ by practicing with high-caliber athletes, as her knowledge about the mental side of the game was improving. She also took a leap on the physical side of her game by refining her footwork and cutting ability.
Following the 2020-21 season, Woods was still enrolled at Royal Crown and planned on taking a fifth year of high school. She was also taking college-course credits to keep her option open. An opportunity presented itself late in the summer when WSU needed a point guard and heard about Woods through her high school coaches back in Ohio.
Woods success at the high school level caught the eyes of the WSU coaching staff and they brought her out for an official visit in September. The guard immediately fell in love with the campus and the team. She now found herself with a choice to play another year in prep school, or go play for a Power 5 program coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance.
The decision became apparent for Woods on her visit to go ahead and start her college career. After she committed to the Cougars and knowing she wouldn't be able to play until December, the staff gave her a playbook to learn while finishing course work back in Ohio. The time with the playbook allowed her to hit the court running once she was eligible to make her debut.
The freshman guard came back to the Palouse on Dec. 15 but had to wait until Dec. 18 before she could officially join the team. That date coincided with the Cougar's game at BYU, a team that has spent most of the season in the top-25.
When the Cougs arrived at the Marriott Center for shoot around that morning, it was the first time Woods had put on a WSU jersey as an official Coug. Hours later, with no official practice under her belt, the 5-3 guard checked into the contest against the No.20/22-ranked team in the nation. The fact that the coaching staff put her on the court, in an away game against a top-20 opponent, without participating in a team practice, is a sign that she's a player to watch for in the future.
Woods compares her game to the likes of Aari McDonald and Allen Iverson, because of her smaller stature and tenacious defense. She has more in common with the crafty guards than just size. Her ball-handling skills and decision-making are quite advanced for someone who did not play organized basketball until seventh grade.
Though she considered a handful of schools, WSU was her top choice. That was because she liked the staff's honesty with her during the recruiting process. The bluntness, honesty, and confidence they had in her are what convinced her to commit on the spot.
"Coach Ethridge and Coach [Laurie Koehn] told me what I needed to hear," Woods said.
Woods is only a freshman, so she has plenty of time to decide on her field of study, but psychology has been calling her name. The desire to learn more about the brain can only help with her basketball game because of the cerebral nature of playing point guard.
For now, Woods is excited to be playing in the Pac-12 Conference and she looks forward to challenging herself day in and day out in the Conference of Champions.