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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: What About Tony Woods?

You may remember 2008 recruit Tony Woods, a Rivals 5-star who came to school at Wake Forest with Al-Farouq Aminu. Woods played for two years with the Demon Deacons, averaging 10 and 13 minutes and under 5 points both years.

After his sophomore season, Woods got into an altercation with his girlfriend. Media reports have Woods beating up his girlfriend, Courtney Barbour, in front of their 1-year old son, and inflicting serious injury on her in the form of a spinal fracture. However, Woods and Barbour tell a completely different story to Jason King of Yahoo! Sports, and as is usually the case, the story they tell is far, far less fearful than the initial reports.

Even though Woods was initially charged with inflicting serious injury on Barbour, the evidence was inconclusive about the cause. Barbour said that she had fallen out of bed in her dorm earlier that same week, and her back had been bothering her since.

In the end, nobody knows but those two what really happened, since they were the only ones present. It is also possible that Woods really did beat her up and hurt her, and she later modified her story, but based on the account in the above article and the believable story by Barbour, I am convinced that her account is probably very close to the truth. If so, Woods was guilty of bad behavior, but not as bad as most people rightly concluded from the earlier reports.

Originally, Tony Woods committed to play for the Louisville Cardinals, but has subsequently reopened his recruitment to include, you guessed it, the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as the Texas Longhorns. John Clay had an article today discussing Woods involvement with Kentucky thus:

Calipari is the king of second chances. That we know. Over the years, the UK coach has done much good by taking kids that other coaches avoided, by rescuing kids other coaches cast aside.

But the Woods case is a different and much more complicated case. His was not an alcohol problem or a drug problem or an attitude problem. His was a put-his-hands-on-a-female problem.

More accurately, according to Barbour at least, it was a "foot-on-a-female problem," which may be even worse, depending on your point of view. In any case, Clay wonders if Calipari should be getting back in the second-chance business like he did at Memphis, famously giving Jeremy Hunt a second chance after a similar girlfriend incident.

So now Kentucky fans, some of whom were mocking Rick Pitino and Louisville for considering Woods are now in the position of mockees. I have been expecting this moment, taking Calipari at face value when he defended his decision in the Hunt matter and various other situations where he gave troubled players a second chance.

The reaction around the Big Blue Nation to Kentucky's apparent consideration of Woods as a possible scholarship player has been mostly negative. Even Gregg Doyel has weighed in on the matter via Twitter. Generally speaking, the answer around people with an opinion is that UK should not consider him for a scholarship.

So lets go through some analysis:

  1. Woods is a talented player who committed a very bad misdemeanor offense. What is worse, the offense of a man assaulting a woman, even just a push off the bed with a kick, has a scarlet-letter stigma that takes a very long time to rehabilitate.
  2. Calipari is known for his compassion, although that compassion usually tends to serve his interests as well, so an offer of a scholarship would not be purely compassion. It would be about basketball and what Woods can do for UK at least as much as anything else.
  3. Calipari has taken a lot of heat throughout his career for giving fallen players a second chance, but as far as I know, every second chance he has given has had a positive result for the player, if not for Calipari or his university's reputation.
  4. Should Kentucky offer scholarships to players who have a poor reputation? Make no mistake, Woods' reputation is poor, and it got that way because he did wrong, even if not as great a wrong as many people think.
  5. Even if Woods is rehabilitated, does that argue for his second chance being at a major division I basketball power?

My conclusion is that Tony Woods has no right to expect another opportunity, but his talent (and arguably Barbour's account of what really happened) make it inevitable that he will get one. But Kentucky is not Memphis, and I don't think Calipari can do the same things here that he did at there. Just as Calipari observed that UK was his dream job, that job comes with responsibilities that did not exist, or existed to a lesser degree at Memphis. This is one of college basketball's Great Powers, the Big Blue Legend.

On balance, I would oppose a scholarship offer for Woods. Even though I am convinced that what he did was not as bad as it had been made out to be, his reputation is compromised to the extent that he can only do harm to Kentucky's reputation. Calipari's previous experiment with Hunt proved this, because even though Hunt turned out okay as far as we know, Calipari and Memphis are still criticized for giving him that second chance. Calipari has an ethical duty not to allow his actions to harm Kentucky's reputation, and offering Woods a scholarship definitely would.

Yes, Woods could help Kentucky on the court. But he would hurt us more in other ways, and will keep on hurting. Besides, Hunt and Calipari had a relationship, and this is purely about basketball.

This is one time that Calipari should let others take the heat, if they will.

[Addendum: Jerry Tipton writes that Woods may prefer Texas due to more playing time immediately available.]