Although he wasn’t born in the state of Kentucky, Sean Woods feels like he’s at home.
The new Morehead State coach is just a short drive from Lexington, where he starred at Kentucky as a member of a crew coined “The Unforgettables.” His jersey hangs from the rafters in Rupp Arena, recognition for Woods’ efforts in the program’s improbable run to the Elite Eight in 1992.
His mother’s family lives in Lexington. His wife is a Kentucky native.
“Well, it helps tremendously because now you have a familiarity. When we were in Mississippi, we didn’t know anyone,” Woods, who led Mississippi Valley State to the NCAA tournament last season, told ESPN.com. “Here, we have familiarity. We’re 40 minutes from Lexington. My wife is from Lexington. The whole side of my Mom’s family is from Lexington. So it’s somewhat home for the most part.”
But that alone didn’t appeal to Woods.
Beyond a pay raise, Woods wanted support and resources.
That’s not an unreasonable request for any coach entering a new position but few rivaled the destitution he endured at Mississippi Valley State.
He once practiced at a middle school, as MVSU officials tried to gather the funds to fix a leak in the roof above their home floor. It was a 20-minute drive from the school and sometimes, the team had to wait for the preteens to clear the gym before they were allowed to use it.
His former program didn’t play its first home game last year until Jan. 3 because the school needed the team to travel and collect checks -- those road matchups accounted for nearly 20 percent of the school’s athletic budget -- from BCS schools.
“You know, because you’ve got to raise so much money, you’re going to lose 10, 11 straight basketball games before your conference season starts,” he said. “That’s tough.”
And kids struggled in the classroom, Woods said, due to the school’s limited academic assistance for athletes. Mississippi Valley State is banned from the 2012-13 postseason due to low APR scores.
“I only did the best I could. When there’s no money for academic resources, how can you be successful as far APR is concerned?” he said. “We didn’t have any study halls, we had no tutorial services. We had no academic advisers. We had nothing. And there was no sense of urgency with that. And that was another reason I wanted to leave. I loved the place, some of the people who were there, but [the] priorities as far as academics [were] concerned, especially with athletics, were not there.”
Woods said Morehead State athletic director Brian Hutchinson’s commitment and support sold him on the opportunity. Former Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall, who left for Southern Miss after last season, led the Eagles to the NCAA tournament in 2009 and 2011. He also groomed a young Kenneth Faried, now a standout with the Denver Nuggets, during his time at Morehead State.
Woods said he’s focused on adding another chapter to what Tyndall started.
“I have an athletic director and administration that wants to win, winning is important and they’re going to do whatever they can in their power to help me be successful,” Woods said.
Belmont is in the Ohio Valley Conference now. Powerhouse Murray State is led by All-America guard Isaiah Canaan. Tennessee State returns the core of a roster that won 20 games last season.
That addition should help. But Woods recognizes the broad challenges he’ll face in a tough conference. And he’s not intimidated by them because he’s encountered more dire obstacles in the past.
“I had success at Mississippi Valley,” Woods said. “I went to a place that was at the bottom of the echelon as far as resources and money and [Morehead State] saw that I’m a go-getter and I create excitement wherever I go. And I’m a winner.”