By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Michelle Woods may not be the most talkative player, but her game makes a lot of noise on the court.
The sophomore guard leads the Hurricanes in 3-point percentage, while ranking second in assists and minutes, and third in scoring.
Woods, 20, has been successful playing point guard for Miami despite lacking the outgoing personality that most great floor generals naturally have.
"I'm a quiet person," Woods said. "The coaches want to see me talk more on the floor but I don't talk that much."
Miami coach Katie Meier and her staff constantly reminds Woods to be more vocal on the floor. When the young guard is not being verbal enough, Meier is quick to give Woods a reminder of what she needs to do.
"If I'm not talking, she'll probably make me run and that reminds me to talk," Woods said. "They'll pull me aside and talk to me about what they want me to do. If I still don't talk enough, I know I'll probably be running."
Woods admits that she could be more vocal but Meier has already seen the sophomore improve as a leader from when she first arrived on campus prior to last season.
"She's made a significant improvement in that area," Meier said. "She knows the game. When someone is in the wrong spot for her, that upset her but she wasn't communicating it. She was just being upset and leaving it alone. We're pretty frank around here and we told her 'what do you think is going to change?' We only have five timeouts a game so if you need something to change, you can't wait for the coaches to fix it for you. She realized that she needed to take charge and she's done a great job with it."
Communication was a struggle for Woods during her recruitment, as well. A two-time Class 2A Player of the Year in Florida, Woods guided her team to a pair of state titles and five district titles while playing for her father, Mitch Woods, at Naples Community School.
All of her accolades made her a highly attractive prospect to schools all around the country and Woods was bombarded with letters and phone calls from college coaches trying to get her to join their programs.
"My dad would get phone calls from coaches and he was always telling me to call coaches," Woods said. "I didn't really listen though because I don't like to talk. I got bombarded with letters, but I wouldn't open most of them up. The schools that were too far away I wouldn't even open their letters."
Woods' father, who played collegiately at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., played a key role in forming Woods as a basketball player.
"I look up to him," Woods said. "He always tells me stuff to do like put up extra shots or work on my ball handling and study my plays. He is always trying to help me improve as a player and a point guard."
Playing for her father for most of her career, Woods looked for a coach that she could connect to like she did with her father. Though Meier is more animated than Coach Woods, Michelle felt a connection to Miami's coach similar to what she had with her dad.
"My dad is really calm and she is very different," Woods said. "Coach Meier is very enthusiastic, animated and has a lot of energy. Coach Meier likes to yell to get her message through but it's in a good way. Off the court, she is like a mom. She takes care of us. She's always looking out for us and always willing to help us."
Woods weighed all of her options and settled on a final three of Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast and Miami.
"Gulf Coast is like 15 minutes from home but I didn't want to be that close to home," Woods said. "FSU is kind of far away, so Miami was perfect. It was the best choice. It's only like an hour and a half away from home. But I didn't talk to the coaches and tell them that. I came on my official visit and after that, I was sure I was going to come here."
While Woods knew she wanted to be a Hurricane, Meier and her staff were not as confident.
"She made sense to us, being from a great family and local enough," Meier said. "We were far enough away where she could get a little bit away from home but was still within driving distance. I felt good about her but we couldn't really get a read on her."
Before Woods told Meier she wanted to be a Hurricane, the talented guard scared Miami's coach into thinking she was going to play collegiately at the University of South Florida.
"She had gone to South Florida's team camp for a weekend and that had us nervous," Meier said. "She called me right after the camp and she did really well. I thought 'oh gosh, that's closer to home and I didn't hear from her all weekend.' So she finally calls me and tells me 'Coach, you've been recruiting me the hardest and the longest and I have so much respect for you guys that I wanted you to know that I've made my decision.' And my heart just dropped because she said, 'I don't want you to have to read this in the paper.' And I was like 'no way did we lose this kid!' I had a horrible feeling and then she goes 'I'm committing to Miami.' I remember yelling at her and her parents because they had me going, but I was so excited to hear that she was going to join us."
Woods has always been the quiet floor general. As one of the best high school players in Florida, Woods was a star without having to say much, so becoming a more vocal leader has been a challenge for her.
"I struggled with it in high school," Woods said. "I didn't talk much in high school and having to communicate more now is different and new to me. I've been working on it though to try and get better at it."
The second-year guard is still timid at times, but she is becoming the leader Meier wants running her offense.
"She is demanding things from her teammates now," Meier said. "She's a very nice young lady and well raised but she is demanding when she needs to be. The team is figuring out what it takes to win and that's been fun to watch, especially in her. She's not saying 'I shouldn't yell at her because she is a senior.' Someone is making a mistake on her team under her command and she is demanding more from them. That's going to make her an important player for us."
While Woods is tackling the challenge of overcoming her quiet demeanor to become a better communicator, the talented guard has always challenged herself in different ways on the basketball court and found success.
She grew up playing youth basketball with her older brother, Mitch. Early on, opposing teams did not guard Woods because she was a girl. Then they saw her play and made her a focal point as they tried to defend the future Division I player.
"It made me better," Woods said of playing against boys. "They were much faster and stronger but I could still hang with them. A lot of teams didn't want to guard me because I was a girl and they thought I would get hurt. But then they saw that I could play and they had to guard me."
After playing with the boys for three years, Woods transitioned to girls' basketball. But playing with girls her own age proved to be boring and uncompetitive so she decided to play against older, more physically mature girls.
"I had to play up because there was no competition," Woods said. "It was easy playing against people my age. As I started playing up, it was a little bit intimidating. I was really young and worried that I would get my shot blocked all the time. But then I started to gain confidence."
Meier has seen Woods' confidence soar as the season has progressed. With every game, Woods has become more of a leader and earned more of Meier's trust. Though just a sophomore, Meier considers Woods one of the leaders on the team and someone who holds the responsibilities of an upperclassman.
"She is extremely talented," Meier said. "She's a very composed player. She definitely wants to have command of the game. In her freshman year, she didn't have to have as big of a role because of the All-Americans we had in the backcourt, but she had a very important role. I think she knows that she has worth here, but it's a matter of her taking that next huge step. So much has graduated from our backcourt. Most freshmen get a little more responsibility in their sophomore year, but it's like she has junior responsibilities right now. That's a big leap for her because we ask her to play a lot of point guard."
Following in the footsteps of stars Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, Woods has had to take on significant responsibilities. Johnson and Williams were the primary ball handlers on a team that went to the second round in the NCAA tournament last year. This season, Meier has turned to Woods and senior Stefanie Yderstrom to make Miami's offense go and she has been pleased with how Woods has responded.
"Playing point guard for me is not easy. It's fun, but it's not easy," Meier said. "I want you to think as quickly as I do and that's a very hard thing to do. To have all the options in your brain and picking one of those options as you're going full speed down the court. Early on, I think the adjustment we made with Michelle was giving her two options instead of 20. We give her two and then in the next time out we'll give her two more. I think you can see she is getting command of the game that way and that is going to help us in ACC play."