August 21, 2017 11:06:45 PM
The climb continues for Robert Woodard II.
Days after being one of 29 high school players invited to the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles, Woodard was back with his Columbus High School boys basketball teammates preparing for the 2017-18 season.
There were 100-meter sprints, 400-meter runs, and plenty of stadium steps to run. All of it was done on a toasty Monday afternoon in August in the state of Mississippi. It's no wonder why Woodard's T-shirt and those of his teammates were soaked through and dripping sweat onto the Columbus High track.
But training like that is part of the work new Columbus High boys basketball coach Anthony Carlyle expects all of his players to do, even the ones who just returned to Columbus.
For Woodard, the conditioning was another test to help him get ready for a senior season in which he again will be expected to lead the Falcons. It came on the heels of another high-profile event that helped Woodard raise his profile.
"It was great," Woodard said after running a 400. "I went out there with the mind-set to try to move up (in Nike's Top 100 in the Class of 2018). I tried to get Mississippi out there as well as myself."
Woodard joined 20 of the top current college players at one of the summer's most prestigious basketball camps. The five-day camp, which started Aug. 15, featured 41 former players from the Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL). Thirteen of the high school players invited have committed to high-major Division I programs.
Woodard likely will join that mix. He said he has narrowed his college choices to (in no particular order) Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Georgetown, and Oklahoma State. He said he likely will wait until the beginning of the college basketball season to trim that list and pick the schools he will take official visits to.
Woodard said the players worked out in the morning -- weights, a cycling class, yoga -- and then did skill work. He said the players returned in the evening to do more skill work and to scrimmage.
"I think I did pretty well," said Woodard, a 6-foot-6 swingman, who was named the state of Mississippi's Gatorade Player of the Year earlier this year. "I trained pretty hard coming up into the camp, so I felt very confident when I got there. My motor was very good as well as working out and competing against the other guys."
One highlight making the rounds on social media showed Woodard hitting a corner jump shot playing for Team Glove. Woodard said he felt comfortable with his jump shot and was very confident throughout the week.
The trip to California capped a successful Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) summer season that also saw Woodard help lead Team Thad, which is named for NBA standout Thaddeus Young, win the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament on July 30-Aug. 2. The team went 3-0 in pool play and finished 8-0.
"My last AAU tournament, going out there and winning one of the biggest tournaments in the country, it felt really good going against those top teams and top players," Woodard said. "It felt really good to come out on top."
New Columbus High boys basketball coach Anthony Carlyle believes Woodard's opportunity to test himself against some of the nation's top high school and college players will bolster his confidence as he continues preparations for his senior season.
"When you have a chance to go to a camp and compete against other great players and see how other great players work, you can only benefit from it," Carlyle said. "That should be motivation just to continue to want to be better being around that type of talent.
"Robert definitely wants to be great. He doesn't mind putting in the work truing to accomplish his goals."
Carlyle led Velma Jackson to 46-32 victory against Cleveland East Side in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 3A State championship game on March 10 at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Mississippi State signee Nikolas Weatherspoon had 18 points to lead Velma Jackson to its fourth title in five years. Weatherspoon is the brother of MSU guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who led Velma Jackson to the Class 3A State titles as a senior, junior, and sophomore.
Carlyle replaces Gary Griffin, who led Columbus to a 16-13 record and the MHSAA Class 6A State tournament this past season. Carlyle will be the school's fourth coach in four years.
Carlyle said last week was Columbus High's first full week of conditioning. He said the team alternates between running and sprints -- the goal is to work up to three miles -- and running bleachers and doing agility drills. The team works out five days a week. This week will feature three days of running and two days of bleachers.
All of the training is taken from a regimen Anthony did when he played basketball for his father, Archie, a legendary coach in the state.
"I understood the benefit of it once I left and was able to play other places," Anthony Carlyle said. "I was in the best shape of my life. We did it at Velma and the guys were in shape, and we had athletic guys and it paid off. If it is not broken, I am not going to try to fix it."
The hard work is designed to maximize the skills of all of the Falcons, including Woodard, who continued his climb after being interviewed. This time, the climb meant going up and down the stadium steps of the bleachers at the Columbus High football field.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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