Connor Wood and Mitchell Wood accept mental toughness layered on basketball talent is required to play for the Carleton Ravens. Having a brother for a teammate helps maintain that accountability.
“You have to have someone you're close to on on the team,” says Mitchell Wood, 21, a second-year economics student. “It's good to have a bunch of core people that you're in with so you can look at someone when things are going tough, and go hard for that person. I guess it's easier if you have a brother.”
Growing up in Guelph, the Woods wrecked a few rims in the driveway. Their on-court tintypes sync with birth order. Connor is a shooter. Mitchell, 20 months younger, uses all of his 6-4, 195-pound frame aggressively to win 50/50 rebounds and loose balls.
“He had to survive in the driveway somehow, so he had to be tough,” quips Connor, who majors in psychology.
“I always liked to get to the rim more than shoot,” Mitchell concurs. “I was going to get bullied either way, so I had to come hard or just not come out [of the house] at all.”
Carleton being No. 1 in Canadian Interuniversity Sport's coaches' poll at the outset of the conference playoffs belies that they are rebuilding, relatively speaking. The more relevant ranking is the Ravens are the No. 3 seed for OUA playoffs due to being 0-3 against rival Ryerson and Ottawa, the latter of which they might have to beat to reach the CIS Final 8.
With coach Dave Smart on sabbatical, every Raven has a new role. Connor is one of OUA's most prolific three-point shooters. Mitchell's robust play off the bench is a big element of interim coach Rob Smart's nine-man rotation.
“I think it's just a lot of fun that we're the guys who are deciding it this year, so it's lot of, 'we have to be motivated ourselves' and be motivating each other,” says Connor Wood, 22, a fourth-year player averaging 13.6 points. “Everyone is taking a step up from what he did last year, everyone is trying to do something different, even like the coaching staff.
“It's been a lot of learning this year,” the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Connor Wood adds. “We haven't beat those two teams yet but I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Not for nothing do Carleton rosters need a family tree appended. Their current five-year reign was fueled by now-graduated guard Phil Scrubb and forward Thomas Scrubb, who were often incorrectly taken for twins. The current coach Smart played for his uncle and gravitated to being his lead assistant.
Carleton, with NCAA Division I transfer Kaza Keane taking over at point guard, lost to Ryerson for the first time since 2000 – Dave Smart's first season – and absorbed a season-series sweep against Ottawa for the first time since '07. Connor Wood, who was usually a third offensive option on the Scrubb-led 2015 Ravens, is adapting to having a higher quality of competition. Friday, he had 26 points at Laurentian, including seven threes.
“We were looking for a little more balance across the board and he has done a good job,” Rob Smart says. “We want him to be aggressive offensively and hopefully that takes the pressure off the other guys.
“It's just a whole new world when you're not getting the weaker matchup, plus you're not getting all the closeouts [high-percentage open looks] that you're used to. Usually it takes guys one year to adjust – 'now coaches are watching for me.' Connor has had to do it within a year.”
Mitchell Wood has averaged 4.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game. On a per-minute basis, his rebounding rates favourably with OUA's leaders.
“He's pretty much a 'junior hockey player playing basketball' mentality,” Smart says of the younger Wood. “He is a tough kid. He's got lots of brothers, and they've had some good battles.
“Around Grade 12 I noticed a shift with him. He hit the weights really hard. Must have some good gyms in Guelph.”
Carleton will host an OUA quarter-final on Saturday against either Brock or Laurier, pending the result of that first-round game. The four teams left after the weekend advance to the OUA Wilson Cup on March 11-12. Three – the semifinal winners automatically, and the bronze-medal winner as a wild-card selection – will qualify for the Final 8 (March 17-20, Vancouver).
Whether Carleton's 14th consecutive CIS tournament trip, let alone a 12th CIS title, is in the offing remains to be seen. One certainty is the Ravens will not go quietly.
“Those losses showed what we've needed to improve and that is what we have really tried to work on,” Connor Wood says. “I feel like we'll be ready when playoffs come.”