JaCobi Wood knew exactly what he wanted the first time he stepped foot inside Cleveland High School as a rookie freshman — to do everything it took to earn his way to the basketball court of a NCAA Division-I college.
So far, so good.
Wood, in front of a large group of friends and family inside Raider Arena at CHS Friday, took the first step toward walking onto the basketball court as a D-I player when he signed a scholarship to play for the Belmont University Bruins.
“I'm super excited about it. My family and I as a whole, we're just all ready for the season we have here at Cleveland, then for Belmont later in college. It's a big deal for us and I'm happy about it,” Wood said minutes before putting pen to paper.
Blue Raider first-year head coach Reggie Tucker recalled one of the first times he sat down with the 6-2 point guard to talk about how Wood planned to use his talent.
“They are getting a leader. They are getting one of the hardest working kids I have been around,” said a proud Tucker, who played at LSU. “He's been an extension of me since he walked in the building day one. I asked him how he was going to use this game to get ahead. He told me, 'I'm going to go to class. I'm going to get great grades and I'm going to play Division-I basketball.' That was his goal his freshman year and nothing has gotten in the way of that. That kid has been locked in since he walked in the double doors here at Cleveland High School as a freshman.”
“He's been fun to coach,” continued the Raiders' coach. “What's special about him is he's the first one here and the last to leave. Every day he leads our guys in everything they do. They (Belmont) are getting one of the best point guards I've coached, and I've coached some great ones. He is blessed to have Belmont, and Belmont is blessed to have him, for sure. I think he's going to do some great things at Belmont.”
Wood will be working to break into the lineup of a school that is no stranger to postseason appearances. The Bruins have reached the NCAA tournament eight times since 2006, with the latest appearance coming in 2019. During that span, the Bruins also played in the NIT and once in the CIT.
Wood, who averaged 19.2 points per game with 4.1 rebounds five assists and 2.8 steals last season, said going to college at a top-level school was what he and his late brother, Rondazz "Jay" Mee, talked about growing up. His brother, a former standout hoop player at CHS himself, passed away in accident on the Ocoee River in May.
“Me and my brother use to always say we wanted to go college and have a professional career here (in the U.S.) or overseas, whatever it may be. I wanted to start here and go to a D-I college. I'm completing that goal and I'm completing that goal step-by-step for him,” said Wood, who plans to major in accounting with a minor in business.
“I'm so excited. I talked to all the coaches about it today (at Belmont). They are just ready to get me up there. I'm ready get up there, too. The learning experience I'm going to have, the new teammates and the atmosphere in Nashville will be great for me.”
Tucker said there is no doubt Belmont will continue to use Wood at the point and expects him to see minutes as a freshman. How many minutes will be up to Wood and how much work he puts in and how fast he learns a new system.
“They will use him as a scoring point guard. I've known coach Casey (Alexander) since he coached a Stetson, and we've got a strong relationship. I know how he uses point guards and what he expects. He likes guards that can shoot and score and 'Cobi' fits the bill for sure. Belmont has a great program and he will earn his minutes. He'll be ready,” said Tucker.
“I think he will be prepared because of everything he does here. He spends extra time. I see him here at six o'clock in the morning. I see him here at nine o'clock with the lights off working on his game. They are getting a kid that is definitely going to be prepared.”
Wood agreed with Tucker's assessment and acknowledged the responsibility to get onto the floor and break into the starting lineup will be on his shoulders alone. He added he is not afraid of the challenge and is looking forward to growing as an athlete and a member of society while enjoying his time in Nashville.
“It will be all on me, how my effort and all that will be. I'll give 110%, so it should be a good experience for me. I want to learn anything I don't know. Stuff I think I know here may be completely different in college, I know it will be. (I want) learning from my teammates, coaches, all the veterans that know stuff I don't. I'm open to everything,” he said. “I'm going to enjoy the process. That's the main thing for me and my family.”
Wood helped the Blue Raiders to a 76-14 record with three straight District 5-AAA championships and last season's berth in the TSSAA State Championship Tournament under longtime CHS head coach Jason McCowan.