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UNC Basketball: Seventh Woods is leaving, and he will be sorely missed

Saying goodbye is always so hard to do.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Wake Forest Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Seventh Woods announced on Instagram that he will transfer for his final year of college basketball. Some fans tried to rationalize the decision. Others were surprised. A very small, highly misguided minority, expressed some mixture of relief or indifference. After watching Woods struggle to remain healthy and then fight for playing time, many understood.

I went through a range of emotions. As most who read this site know, I’ve held an irrational amount of joy and hope for Woods the past two years. I have never wanted to see a player succeed more than I did for Woods. Anxiously, I held out hope he could break through whatever mental or physical wall he kept running into. No matter how many angles I examined in my mind, the same conclusion kept appearing.

I’m going to miss the hell out Seventh Woods.

We are all familiar with his journey. He was an internet sensation with explosive athleticism and insane highlights. Most cannot imagine the pressure that comes with the hype that Woods had entering college. Then injuries delayed his development. Playing behind UNC legend Joel Berry and soon-to-be NBA lottery pick Coby White didn’t make his path any easier. Simply put, he never met the absolutely unfair expectations that were placed on him.

None of that matters.

Through all the struggles, Woods was the consummate teammate. Many in his situation would become malcontents. Pitch a fit. Take to social media to complain. Turn into black holes on offense and statues on defense. Maybe even leave town in the middle of the night. Woods never did any of that.

After committing when many recruits were terrified of NCAA sanctions, he dutifully played the understudy as a freshman. Most don’t remember that despite never being completely healthy following a knee injury in high school, he averaged 7.7 minutes and appeared in all 40 games. That included three minutes in the NCAA championship game to give Berry a brief rest. He will always be a National Champion. Forever. That can’t be taken away.

Jalek Felton’s arrival and an ill-timed stress fracture killed Woods’ momentum as a sophomore. In the first seven games - which included Stanford, Arkansas, Michigan State, and Michigan— he averaged 10.9 minutes and had an A:T of 2.4. Eligible for a medical redshirt, he decided to return and help make a deep March run that never materialized. Unfortunately, his early season form never reappeared either. I will always be convinced that season turns out differently if Seventh Woods had remained healthy.

As for his season? To be perfectly blunt, Woods didn’t meet expectations. He was also never as bad as many thought. Playing behind a prodigious talent like White only exacerbated those differences. Uneven performances led to a decrease in minutes. It became more and more difficult to find a rhythm. Some players can start and stop on demand, but Seventh never truly got comfortable. At times, he seemed burdened. Confidence ebbed and flowed.

How did Woods react? From an outsider’s perspective, Woods remained focused on the team. Gave instructions on the court. Pointed to open players or directed people to a certain spot. Yelled from the bench for open teammates to shoot the ball. Sparked key defensive runs with his on-the-ball defense, like this stretch at Louisville.

It wasn’t a coincidence that UNC’s defense struggled against UCLA and Texas — two games Woods missed with injury. His explosive first half helped bury Gonzaga. His poise at Duke sealed a much needed win over the greatest collection of talent college basketball has ever seen (or so I’ve been told). For every frustrating low, he teased us with tantalizing highs.

Most importantly, he celebrated his teammates successes with a sheer joy that always got UNC fans excited. This pitch ahead to Nas is an example.

As was this early-season dunk by Cam Johnson.

Or this Nassir Little alley-oop.

Of course, there was this memorable halftime jog into the locker room at Cameron.

And then he consoled them in defeat. Despite playing just two minutes, Woods immediately found Coby after the loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament. This screenshot, encapsulated everything Woods was about.

We aren’t blind or dumb. Woods struggled to find a true niche in Chapel Hill. There are multiple explanations why that was the case, but none of those matter right now. He isn’t the first player to struggle at UNC or in college. He won’t be the last.

Let’s also be clear. Seventh Woods isn’t quitting on the team or program. This isn’t a disgruntled underclassmen blaming others for a lack of success. He isn’t choosing the easy way out or shying away from competition. Woods has taken his UNC career about as far as it can go. These things happen.

College careers are fleeting with a finite shelf life. With Cole Anthony joining the fray, Woods’ ceiling was limited next season. From a pure basketball standpoint, seeking a fresh start is completely understandable. If Woods thinks he has more to offer than what has been displayed in Chapel Hill, he has the right to find a more satisfying opportunity.

There will be plenty of time to pontificate on the myriad ways this impacts next year’s roster. Just understand replacing him is more difficult than finding someone who can score more than 2.5 points per game. Woods’ decision to transfer now leaves a void in the locker room that isn’t replaced by talent or scoring. I’m not convinced this will be addition by subtraction as can happen with other unforeseen departures. Judging by the support from past and current teammates on his Instagram post, he was a beloved family member. Senior leadership matters.

Our staff wishes him nothing but the best. We should all be grateful that he is, and always will be, a Tar Heel.

But man, I really am going to miss the hell out of Seventh Woods.