March 2, 2012
By Matt Larson, MSU Athletic Communications
EAST LANSING, Mich. - In 1915, the great American poet Robert Frost penned the poem "The Road Not Taken." It tells the story of traveler that's come to a point on a path where two roads diverge, and he has to choose which path to follow. And while Frost certainly wasn't thinking about a college basketball player nearly 100 years later, Spartan senior Brandon Wood could definitely fill the role of the traveler.
Wood enrolled at Southern Illinois in fall 2007, a few months after the Salukis advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Coming off a strong high school career, Wood was looking forward to more success at the collegiate level. But as can often be the case for freshmen, the first year didn't go as smoothly as he had imagined. Six games into the season, he suffered a stress fracture in his leg and missed the rest of the season. He was granted a medical redshirt, but he had doubts whether he even wanted to continue playing basketball, saying that he lost his love for the game.
That's when a friend from back home in Kokomo, Ind., convinced him to play at Highland Community College. He played just one season for the Cougars, but re-ignited his passion for the game, leading Highland to a seventh-place finish at NJCAA Division I National Tournament, averaging 16.1 points and 3.0 assists. Before that season ever started, he committed to attend Valparaiso the following year. The decision to take the path to attend Valpo and play for Coach Homer Drew would have a life long effect on Wood.
"That was one of the best moves I've made in my whole life," Wood said. "It was a blessing to be a part of Coach Drew's system and just be around him, learning from him on and off the court, how to become a better basketball player and a better man, and knowing how to carry myself around people and how to surround myself with the right people.
"The biggest benefit that stop gave me was turning from a boy into a man."
In two seasons at Valpo, Wood scored 1,117 points and was a two-time All-Horizon League honoree, earning first-team honors in 2011. He also worked hard in the classroom, earning his bachelor's degree in sports marketing and business. NCAA rules allow an institution to apply for a waiver to allow a student-athlete to transfer without sitting out a season, provided the student-athlete has earned a bachelor's degree, has eligibility remaining and is enrolling in a graduate-level program. Wood took advantage of the rule and decided to take the path that would lead him to Michigan State.
When deciding on where he would spend his senior season, one thing stood out at Michigan State, separating it from the other options: the Spartan family.
"I have never been a part of a program like this," Wood said. "When you're getting recruited, people just fabricate everything. When I actually got here and realized that all of the stuff they were telling me was actually real, and the past players had as much effect on the program as they used to- that kind of jumped out to me and impressed me the most. Those are the people I watched on TV growing up. To be able to actually meet more and more people that have come through this program- that is something I hope to do for the rest of my life."
Upon his arrival in the summer, Wood immediately embraced the basketball tradition at Michigan State. When former players took part in summer open gyms, Wood was there like a sponge, soaking up any information he could. In a few short months, Wood already feels like his bonds at MSU will last a lifetime.
And it wasn't just the former players that embraced Wood, as his current teammates welcomed him into the locker room with open arms.
"Ever since the first time I talked to our captain, Draymond Green, he stressed how it's a big family," Wood said. "If you make this decision, you're going to be a part of this family for the rest of your life. In my case, it was a lot easier for me to come here because I immediately had positive and good relationships with the players."
While the transition off the court was seamless, there has been an adjustment on the court. Having averaged 17.7 and 16.7 points per game in the last two seasons respectively, Wood's always been used to having the ball in his hands as the team's most talented offensive player. At Michigan State, he's adjusted to being one of several talented players, but understands he still has his freedom offensively within the system, and that he's gaining valuable experience that will help at the next level.
"I don't think a lot of people could have made that adjustment," Wood said. "It's challenged me mentally and emotionally, but it's working and we're winning. Coach Izzo has said it has worked in the past, and players that have gone through the same system have reached their ultimate goal. I'm excited to have the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and be a part of a program like Michigan State."
Having played for Homer Drew and Tom Izzo, Wood's had a chance to play for two of the game's best coaches. While they feature different styles, Wood sees one similarity that makes them both successful.
"They're both real passionate about what they do," Wood explained. "They care about their players as people first, instead of just basketball players.
Through it all: the four schools in five years, the frustrations of injury to the praise of all-conference accolades, Wood has certainly forged his own unique journey. And through it all, he has no regrets.
"I'm the type of person that doesn't regret a decision I make," Wood explained. "I just try to take the positives and go with them. And the negatives, I just try to learn from them and turn them into positives. I use the negatives to try to better me as a person."
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"