JaCobi Wood is living a lot of young athletes’ dreams — playing college basketball at a Division I school.
Wood, the newest member of the Belmont Men’s basketball team, built an extremely successful high school career; now, he aims to bring that success to Belmont.
Being from Cleveland, Tennessee, Wood grew up very close to Nashville. And since he lived only two hours away from Belmont, he spent his fair share of time at the university as a child.
“We would come to games, and we had team camps down here with my high school team, so I’ve been to Belmont pretty much a lot of times,” said Wood.
Wood averaged 19.5 points, five assists and three steals per game as a junior for Cleveland High School, which led his team to the Tennessee Class AAA state tournament.
Wood’s star carried, even off the court. His lifelong friend Antonnio Whaley described him as someone who commits himself in all facets of life — even when things are difficult.
“He wasn’t just your average student though, he was always one of the smartest people in the classroom and he always wanted to be the best in everything on and off the court,” said Whaley.
And success for Wood means helping others achieve their goals — even if it means personally providing a helping hand.
“He was staying up late nights writing essays and studying for other classes, helping other players in study hall, pluts getting up around 6 a.m. to get shots before school and still having the best grades on the basketball team,” explains Whaley.
It may seem to some like Wood is someone who experiences success everywhere he goes, and with that comes expectations. But for Wood, those aren’t anything new.
“I’ve adapted to it in high school so coming into here at Belmont, I have high expectations,” said Wood.
“So just living up to those is not a problem with me cause I’m just so used to trying to do that my whole life. So it won’t be a problem.”
Like other highly recruited athletes, Wood had a lot of different offers, including Vanderbilt and Lipscomb. Although these schools were just as close to where he lived, they were missing something that Belmont had. The fit that he was looking for.
“I think I chose Belmont because it fit. I feel like I fit in very well with their program in the system that they run.”
But that wasn’t the only reason he chose Belmont. Another reason was for the continued commitment to him in his recruitment process.
“I also picked Belmont because the coaches, and coach Byrd, were always recruiting me since my freshman year, and Casey when he was at Lipscomb,” said Wood.
Coach Alexander had taken note of Wood’s play even before coaching at Belmont.
“We started recruiting JaCobi early during his junior year and saw him play many times prior to his commitment in June 2019,” Alexander said.
That early scouting fostered a healthy relationship between the two — so when the time to commit to a college basketball team arrived, for Wood, it wasn’t a question.
“So when Casey came here it just felt like the perfect choice for me, and it just feels like home to me here. We have a really good relationship,” said Wood.
A healthy relationship from the recruitment process on is a priority for any program. So with Wood, Alexander understood exactly what was needed.
“Coaching, especially recruiting, is all about relationships. JaCobi is a mature guy and easy to like, so building a relationship with him was no problem. Our staff did a great job and I think JaCobi knew he could trust us,” said Alexander.
With a strong support system on and off campus, Wood is ready to take on the next chapter. But that chapter will be missing one important person: Wood’s brother, Jay.
Before his passing, Jay was someone JaCobi could count on, on and off the court. He was someone that helped keep him level-headed in the face of adversity, JaCobi said.
“Definitely the main person was my brother. He always was the one who gave me knowledge about stuff off the court. After the games he would never just start talking about how I played.”
“It would always be something to catch up with me and let me know I’m doing good.”
His brother’s influence on his life can be seen in his game. They started training together when he was just seven. He plays hard at every moment to honor his late brother, he said.
“I do everything on the court for my brother, and it’s always been like that. Even before he passed. Our main thing, he played basketball too, was just to make our family proud,” said Wood.
Wood values family and community, and his game shows that. He’s always played for others.
“What I love more about JaCobi is that he just doesn’t care about himself. He wants better for everyone around him,” said Whaley.
That selflessness brought Wood to Belmont — a place where he hopes to do nothing but make those who are cheering for him proud
Two of those people are his parents. They are his biggest supporters, and part of his inspiration, Wood said.
“My dad, and both of my parents. They are always on my side and just there to help me with anything I need,” said Wood.
He can also count on his parents to be enthusiastic about the sport.
“I guarantee if we have fans of the game, you will hear my dad,” said Wood jokingly.
But the question still remains: what is Wood’s game like?
Often, players model their games after other players. It’s common at any level and in any sport; Wood’s basketball game is no exception. Wood’s favorite player also happens to be his namesake and an inspiration for him — the late Kobe Bryant.
“Kobe is definitely my favorite player. So my parents named me after Kobe but with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘K’ because my other brother’s name starts with a ‘C’. So they did that and then Kobe is my favorite player,” said Wood.
Wood is ready to work hard and reach the goals that he has set for himself along with ones that others have set for him.
“Coming in would just be to learn cause I’m coming from being a senior, the highest point in high school. And now going back down to the beginning as a freshman. So just being able to learn from the older guys and not feeling like I know everything and just adapting to the new system,” said Wood.
There is an element of the unknown, but Wood is still eager to see this unusual season play out. And with Belmont being his home for the foreseeable future, Wood is comfortable where he is.
“However this season takes me, if I’m starting, if I’m not. If I’m getting a lot of playing time, or not. I’m just going with the flow and letting God use me throughout the season.”
And no matter what happens, basketball will still be a huge part of Wood’s life. He aspires to bring his passion, fire and love for the game to the Bruins.
He credits the game with bringing him to where he’s at today, and with that mindset, the sky’s the limit for Mr. Basketball.
“Without basketball I do not know where I would be. I grew up in a basketball household. I’ve been playing basketball since I was two, and watching basketball since I came out of the womb,” said Wood.
“I mean — basketball is me. When you look at me, that’s always how I feel.”
This article written by Hanley Riggs.