Austin Woods to play pro ball for Cazorla

Hard work and determination will almost always outshine natural talent no matter what endeavor we choose to endure.

The sun hasn’t even crept up on the horizon and there on Walnut Beach in Milford is the silhouette of brothers Matt and Austin Woods doing sand sprints at 5 a.m. on most mornings.

It is that type of work ethic and that internal desire to do whatever it takes that has led Austin Woods into the world of professional basketball.

In a short few weeks, Austin will be leaving for Spain to join the Cazorla Jaen team in the European Basketball League. It is the next step on a trek that began almost ten years ago.

“I’m expected to leave sometime during the first week of September,” said Woods the former All-State Foran Lions big man who went on to play collegiate basketball for Caldwell University in New Jersey.

“My former teammate at Caldwell — Mike Balkovich played in Spain last season and recommended me to international FIBA agent Guillermo Pascual Manzano and that’s how I came about signing a contract.”

The contract provides meals, travel expenses, an apartment and a base salary throughout the season that runs from Sept. 2017 through May, 2018.

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward has been hard at work preparing for the upcoming season working out with his older brother Matt, another former All-State Foran Lion in football.

“I have been doing strength and agility workouts four to five days a week at RACC (Ramos Athletic Conditioning Center in Milford),” said Woods. “I’m doing my part to make sure I’m ready for the season. I’m also doing basketball training at Parsons along with running at Walnut Beach.”

It’s that kind of work ethic that got Woods noticed in the first place, being named to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All State team as a senior after scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds per game.

“When we recruited Austin out of high school we thought very highly of him,” said Caldwell University head coach Mark Corino. “We knew he came from a good family, was a hard worker and had the desire to excel.

“The unfortunate thing is he got hurt early on and missed basically his whole freshman year. Obviously, that set him back and he ended up playing behind Mike Balkovich who has gone on to play in Spain.

“As a senior he came prepared and worked very hard in the off season. The success of our team would not have been what it was without his consistent performance throughout the year. He developed and matured as a player. Austin is a great young man and is a leader and now he has a great opportunity to play overseas. We couldn’t be happier for him.”

Caldwell was picked last in the preseason poll, but with Woods as the only senior starter (one junior and three freshman) the Cougars finished third in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference with a 17-12 record.

Woods averaged 7 points and a team-leading 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game scoring 203 points with 158 rebounds and 55 blocks.

He was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches team becoming the 11th Caldwell player to do so in the last six seasons

“I played seven games in my freshman year, before I was injured (stress fracture of hip flexor),” said Woods. “Due to certain NCAA rules I couldn’t redshirt and lost almost a whole season. It wasn’t until my senior year where my game and leadership improved drastically.

“I have had many great coaches over the years from the time I was first able to step on a basketball court.”

Woods spoke about having his father (David) being his first coach and then playing for Vic Swaller in middle school and travel ball. Then he went on to high school where Tim Swaller was his coach. He also credits Dan Donnelly, his AAU coach, for challenging him to take basketball seriously and begin to play year round.

“I’m truly grateful for what all these coaches have done for me leading to a full scholarship and now a professional contract. Coach Corino at Caldwell gave me the opportunity to reach the next level and expressed the importance for me to be a team leader.

“He really fueled a fire in me. I put all selfishness aside and worked with the guys to play as a unit. Really pushing and motivating my teammates by leading as an example.

“I strongly believe that’s why CB Cazorla signed me. Not only because I’ll play every game like it’s my last, but because I will strive to make my teammates better to ultimately win. If I approach this season the way I did my last season in college I know I will be successful.”

Cazorla posted a 13-8 record in Group D in the Liga Española de Baloncesto Amateur (EBA).

The team advanced to Stage Two, where they went 2-1 in group play.

Cazorla is located in Southern Spain and is about 127 miles from Granada, Spain.