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Holland Woods' shift from Portland State's engine to cog in ASU's machine

Woods left his records as a Viking to take on new responsibilities as part of Sun Devils' "winning culture"

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ASU senior guard Holland Woods (0) dribbles against Houston Baptist in Desert Financial Arena in Tempe on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. ASU won 100-77. 

For three years, Holland Woods captained Portland State’s up-tempo offense, finishing his tenure there as the program’s all-time leader in steals and assists and ranked fifth in points. 

Creative and elusive on the court, Woods embodied his nickname “Boodini,” devastating opponents with blazing crossovers and nifty passes as he led the Vikings to 54 wins. 

When Woods transferred to ASU as a senior, joining a crowded backcourt led by established returners Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr. and freshman Josh Christopher, it was clear that his responsibilities would change. Yet Woods has found success as he has shifted into a more off-ball, defense-centric role, averaging 6.5 points per game on the season and offering significant two-way value. 

As a freshman at Portland State, Woods did not start immediately, but was given the keys to the offense after nine games. With prolific scoring wings alongside him in seniors Bryce Canda and Deontae North, Woods thrived as a facilitator, averaging 5.6 assists per game in his debut season as he led the team to the third-highest scoring average in the nation. 

Woods excelled immediately in a system that, in some ways, resembled an exaggerated version of ASU’s, predicated upon a perimeter-centric squad forcing turnovers, capitalizing in transition and, as he put it, “making the game crazy."

“I think it was a good fit for both sides,” Portland State head coach Barret Peery said. “(Woods) could push the ball, really play fast, and then he really made plays defensively, getting a lot of steals and creating turnovers.”

Although Woods’ playstyle was unselfish, he overwhelmingly played with the ball in his hands. His opportunities as a scorer also grew as he added muscle, making him a more imposing finisher inside, and developed his change of pace. As a sophomore, he averaged 15 points per game, which he then topped with 17.7 as a junior,  earning all-conference honors both seasons.  

Yet, even as his scoring numbers blossomed, Woods maintained that his passing was his greatest strength. 

“I've always felt like I can score it and stuff, but I've always felt like facilitating and getting guys involved is really my thing,” Woods said. 

In his time at ASU, that unselfish instinct has been pivotal to Woods’ success and has led him to stand out amongst a group of one-on-one creators. 

Although Peery said he believes Woods’ greatest strength is his creation off the dribble, Woods has found himself operating much more in catch and shoot situations as other guards dominate the ball. With 67.2% of Woods’ field goal attempts coming from deep this season, Woods nearly doubled his average at Portland State.  

“He’s been open-minded to it,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “He understands like, ‘hey, I gotta I gotta find my niche in the offense.’"

Currently, Woods is shooting a career-high 30.8% from beyond the arc.

“It's something I've never really done,” Woods said. “So I’ve just got to just contribute in the opportunities I get.”

Although Woods has had to take a step back as far as his offensive volume, his defensive instincts, which empowered him to average 1.7 steals per game as a Viking, have been on full display. 

“Especially in pressing, (Woods) had a good nose for the ball and a good feel for how to go make plays and get deflections and steals to go and turn the ball the other way,” Peery said. 

Now, Woods, whom Hurley recently praised for his defense on UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, has been able to exert himself even more on that end.

“It's something I could have done (at Portland State), but it would have been extremely hard on my body,” Woods said. 

Although Woods’ role has been clearly defined for much of the season, he did offer what Hurley called a “glimpse of what it will look like next year” and, in some ways, a flashback in his 18-point, four-assist showing against USC, in which he assumed greater ball handling duties with Martin out. 

Although opportunities like that have been rare on the season, Woods said he was content with his responsibilities as they are, and, above all else, he wanted to be a part of “Guard U."

“I just want to be able to star in my role, whether that may be being 'the guy' or being just a role guy,” Woods said. “I just want to be able to help contribute to winning.”

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