Austin Woods' hard work pays dividends

Having height on his side and a father who played in college at Big East powerhouse the University of Pittsburgh gave Austin Woods a built-in push towards basketball.

The incentive to get better at the game from both a physical and mental approach has propelled the 6-7 Woods, a 2013 Foran High graduate, to Caldwell College in New Jersey.

Woods started out as a true center in high school, looking to rebound and block shots and then added a perimeter game.

“I had to make the decision to playing Division II basketball right away or going to a prep school (he looked at both Cheshire Academy and Choate) and perhaps getting good enough to play on the Division I level,” Woods said.

Woods, who’s receiving a full scholarship to Caldwell, chose to go to college this fall.

“My dad (Dave) played at the University of Pittsburgh back in the early 1980s,” Woods said. “He’s the one who’s the happiest that I want to play in college.”

As a 13 year old, Woods was already 6-3 and he loved baseball. He had talent as a pitcher, first baseman and an outfielder. The game of basketball, however, hovered over him.

“To my way of thinking, Milford has always been a baseball town,” Woods said. “I grew up playing with Joe Zanghi and a bunch of other kids, who went on to play for (the late) Kenny Walker at Foran.”

Woods also grew up in an athletic family. In addition to his father, his mother (Suzanne, an elementary school teacher in town) played volleyball and basketball.

His older brother, Matt, was an All-State football player at Foran and another brother (Taran) is a skate and snow-boarder.

“We’ve had some interesting family athletic battles over the years,” Austin said. “I’ve gone one-on-one with my dad so many times you couldn’t count all of them.”

He even tried football, but his knees simply took too much punishment.

So, Woods turned full tilt to the basketball court, where he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior for head coach Tim Swaller.

Woods made the all-division as well as the Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association All-State team.

From early on, Woods played basketball year-round, hooking up with the Connecticut Basketball Club AAU team out of Southern Fairfield County.

His AAU coach, Dan Donnelly, also an assistant boys coach at Stratford High, has seen the progress.

“When you’re young and tall, you tend to dominate almost every game you play in,” Donnelly said. “As Austin got older and he had to play against kids his own size or taller, he had to work that much harder.

“That’s what we always tried to stress with him. To constantly improve his skill sets even if that meant doing dribbling drills every day.”

That development, according to Donnelly, has been significant.

Woods admitted that turning up the mental part of the game is what has made him a better player.

“Because the level of skilled players seems to be so much higher in AAU, you really have to increase the intensity within your own game,” he said.

“You have to hustle up and down the court constantly. You’re usually playing an up-tempo style all the time.”

Donnelly loved the way Woods adapted to his team once current Fairfield Prep player Paschal Chukwu, a seven-footer, joined the team.

Woods had to put himself in between Chukwu and 6-9 Sean Obi, a Greens Farms Academy (Westport) grad who now plays at Rice University.

“You’d think that a kid like Austin would be down knowing that he was going to lose some minutes after he played a ton of minutes as a 13 through 16 year old,” Donnelly said.

“It was pleasantly quite the opposite. Austin was overjoyed to have them both on our team. He worked even harder and took it to them in our practices.”

Woods wasn’t able to play AAU this past season because he had already committed to a college program.

He was actively recruited by Ed Ryan, an assistant coach at Caldwell, a northern New Jersey Division II team that plays in the Central Atlantic Conference. The conference includes Post University in Waterbury and the University of Bridgeport.

“It was nice to be thought of like that,” Woods said. “I’m not sure right now where I’m going to fit in early. They have some big players and I may not get that much playing time as a freshman.

“I’m continuing to work on my game. They may move me to a power forward spot.”