Christian Wood: Chip on His Shoulder

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

There isn’t a more exciting, yet nerve-wracking, time for NBA hopefuls than the night of the league’s annual draft. One by one, teams make their choices from a deep pool of deserving candidates, each organization then reaching out to those selected players anxiously awaiting to learn where their basketball future awaits. But for 6-11 Hornets forward Christian Wood, that phone call on the night of June 25, 2015, never came. It was a bitter, disappointing moment for the then-19-year-old, but one that’s fueled him with motivation ever since.

A native of Southern California, Wood spent his senior year of high school playing at Findlay College Prep in Henderson, NV, a national powerhouse that has produced an impressive collection of current NBA players including Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson and Kelly Oubre Jr. One of the top power forwards in the country at the time, Wood chose to attend nearby UNLV for college, another storied program that claims Larry Johnson, Armen Gilliam, Reggie Theus and Shawn Marion amongst its many basketball alums.

Wood played sparingly his first year with the Runnin’ Rebels in 2013-14, but exploded with averages of 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 33 appearances his sophomore season, earning Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors. He elected to forgo his final two years of collegiate eligibility and declared for the 2015 NBA Draft.

Projected as a potential first-round pick, Wood intently watched the NBA Draft with his family in Las Vegas, confident he'd hear his name called at some point. As the night continued to unfold, it became increasingly and painstakingly clearer that an occasion that was supposed to be a joyful one for Wood was instead going to end with heartbreak.

“It was tough,” said Wood’s close friend and former UNLV teammate Patrick McCaw, who now plays for the Golden State Warriors. “I wasn’t there. I was back home and watched the NBA Draft all the way through, and not seeing his name called at all, it was tough to see that knowing that he was supposed to be a first-round pick.”

For as much happiness as the NBA Draft can bring to some, it can also be a cruel, humbling experience for those who are not chosen as well. Nothing epitomized this feeling more than a widely-circulated photograph taken of Wood later that evening, who is seen bent over in his chair, staring at the floor in contemplation of what his next move will be.

When Wood’s phone did eventually ring, it was the Houston Rockets offering him a place on their Summer League team. He later latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers for training camp and even made the team’s opening night roster. He was waived on Jan. 4 and then reacquired by Philadelphia’s NBA D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, before rejoining the 76ers in March for the remainder of the season.

In total, Wood played 17 games at the NBA level during his rookie season, averaging 3.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 8.5 minutes. He also put up marks of 17.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 32 total D-League appearances.

After playing with the 76ers in the 2016 NBA Summer League, Wood signed a guaranteed one-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets on July 14, which also included a team option for the 2017-18 campaign.

In an interview after signing with Charlotte, Wood said the Hornets “got a hardworking guy, a guy that’s going to buy into the team and they got a guy who’s here for the fans, that’s here to play and here to win.”

He added, “I’m going to have a chip on my shoulder for as long as I’m in the NBA. Since going undrafted, I think it’s one of the better things that’s helped me out. I think it took my game to the next level. I carried a chip on my shoulder during workouts, during Summer League when I played with Philadelphia. Here, when I get on the court, I’m going to have a chip on my shoulder.”

Although he had averaged just 2.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in five games for the Hornets through Feb. 28, Wood has made the most of his time in the D-League this season with the Greensboro Swarm, averaging 19.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 18 appearances. Wood’s best performance of the year undoubtedly came on Jan. 12 as he totaled an astounding 45 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks against the Long Island Nets.

“He just stayed focused and continued to work and it’s paying off,” said McCaw. “Just how humble he is and how hard he works, I think that’s what got him through those tough times. I’m really happy for him and his family that the success is finally starting to pay off. It’s great to see a fellow teammate and friend work his way back to where he belongs.”

It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that while NBA players sometimes seem invincible on the basketball court, they are regular people just like everybody else and are subject to the same emotions we all feel. For Christian Wood, he’s continued to use those feelings from a disappointing night two summers ago to improve himself, striving to get to a level some said was impossible for him to reach.

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