E.A. Sports Today

Wood picks Bama

Sacred Heart 3-star says “Buckle Up” and “Roll Tide” (free content)

Sacred Heart’s Diante Wood with another monster slam. (File photo)

“When I was 7 years old I didn’t think this day was gonna be here.”

— Sacred Heart senior Diante Wood

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When Diante Wood was 7 years old football was his game and basketball was the farthest thing from his mind. It was all his parents could do to get him on a basketball court.

A decade later here he was in front of the student body signing scholarship papers with the prospect of playing the game for life.

Wood, Sacred Heart’s dynamic 6-foot-5 senior, ended the suspense of his college recruitment Wednesday when he signed a letter of intent to play at Alabama. He gives the Cardinals a dominant inside presence but is expected to be a shooting guard or wing in college.

The two-time 1A Player of the Year and Final Four MVP chose the Tide over South Florida and beleaguered Auburn in large part because of his comfort level with the Tide coaches and players and head coach Avery Johnson’s connections to the next level.

He is the first major college basketball signee from Calhoun County since Oxford’s Jay Heard signed at Auburn in 1997, and he’s doing it coming out of the one of the smallest schools in the state.

“It just came down to what Coach Avery is building at that program,” Wood said, “and I just feel like he has a better chance at getting me to the next level and getting me to be the best player I can be.

“South Florida would be a best fit for me there, too, but with me being the top prospect in the State of Alabama to go to school in Alabama it’d just be better for me all around.”

The recent revelations of improprieties linked to the Auburn basketball program had a “big impact” in the decision, both Wood and his father Chris said. Chris Wood said former Auburn assistant Chuck Person, a key figure now indicted in the FBI/DOJ probe of corruption in the sport, was “a good friend”.

The elder Wood said his son “didn’t know anything about” the circumstances surrounding the investigation.

“What they had going on I just didn’t feel like it’d be best for me to go there anymore,” Diante said of Auburn. “Once it wasn’t happening I let them know I don’t think it’s the best fit for me. I talked to coach (Bruce) Pearl and he agreed with me and he said he didn’t feel like it’d be best for me to come there either because of what they had going on.”

Wood reached his decision Sunday and announced his intention in a video presentation in front of the student body after morning Mass Wednesday. It was a last-minute production in which Wood talked about his journey to reach this point in his life.

At the end of the film he is shown getting in his car and telling everyone to “Buckle Up” before making his reveal with a hearty “Roll Tide.”

“This day took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over months for this. Now that I’ve gone ahead and committed and signed it took a lot of weight off my shoulders. … The day came quicker than I thought it’d come.”

Go back 10 years, though, and you’d think it never would. Diante was a youth football player who was always taller than the rest of the kids and when his father suggested he try basketball he went to the first practice and quit. There might have even been a tear involved.

“I don’t know what to say about that; it was just crazy,” he said. “When I was 7 years old I didn’t think this day was gonna be here.”

But it was on the football field the next year when he played quarterback that his father recognized his son’s athletic agility, ability and field awareness. Eventually Diante got tired of running for his life on the gridiron and about that time his friends, DJ Heath and Kevion Nolan, suggested he join them on the basketball floor.

They were a natural fit on the floor and together made history.

“When he actually started playing and saw how good they were and how good they could be he really focused in on it and got serious about it,” Chris Wood said. “Back then I don’t think he thought he would even get this far, where he could play at the college level. He just loved to play.”

It was an acquired taste.

Heath (Canisius) and Nolan (Samford) signed Division I scholarships last year, leaving Wood to carry on the legacy of adding to the three Class 1A state championships they won together. Heath and Nolan had their numbers retired at Sacred Heart last year. There’s little doubt Wood will complete the set when this season ends.

Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said the trio changed the quality of basketball not only at their school but in Calhoun County.

“That’s where he wants to go and I’m proud of him for choosing where he wants to go and not being swayed by anybody else’s decision,” Graves said. “It’s been a long journey for him but he deserves it.”

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