He was an All-League basketball player at Elder high school in Cincinnati. The only problem for Eric Wood was he was very quickly developing a football body instead of one made for the hardwood. Though football became his passion and his livelihood, Wood never stopped being a basketball fan. Proof of that came just this past week when he took in every one of his alma mater's games at the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Wood's support for his Louisville Cardinals was rewarded with a Big East Tournament title on Sunday. The Bills center donning black number 10 Gorgui Dieng jersey posed with Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino right on the Garden floor amidst the postgame celebration.
"I don't know Rick extremely well. I've met him a few times and he's a very impressionable guy," Wood told Buffalobills.com. "He's an unbelievable public speaker and a super nice guy when you get to know him. I've become good friends with a lot of people in the basketball program. So being down there for the on court celebration after the game was pretty awesome."
After witnessing the overtime semifinal between Syracuse and Georgetown, Wood watched his Cardinals cruise to the final with a 12-point win over Notre Dame. But on Sunday Louisville was trailing late in the second half before storming back on an incomprehensible 44-10 run to beat Syracuse going away 78-61 for the last Big East conference tournament title with most of the teams headed to other conferences next season.
"In the age of one and done to have really special kids like Gorgui Deng and Peyton Siva who night in and night out give it all they've got and don't really care about the accolades, it's pretty amazing to watch," Wood said.
Entering the NCAA Tournament with a 10-game winning streak, the Cardinals were not only awarded the top seed in the Midwest, but were the top overall seed in the entire field. Louisville's first game is Thursday in Lexington, Kentucky and Wood already has his plans set.
"I have travel arrangements to Lexington and Indy already booked, so I'm fairly confident in the first few weekends," he said. "We're going to have a really tough Elite Eight matchup if we make it there presumably against Duke or Michigan State. When you look at the college basketball coaches currently, are there three better basketball coaches than Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino? So right there that winds up to be an awesome Elite Eight matchup no matter who we play."
Of course Wood does harbor a bit of concern if the Spartans prove to be the draw come the Regional Final.
"The only sense of foreboding is the last time we were the number one seed in the Elite Eight we faced Michigan State in Indianapolis and they knocked us out," he said. "So that could present some weird déjà vu. That was the first year I was out of school and I took some buddies up to that game and that was pretty depressing."
With plans for the first two rounds squared away, Wood does intend to get to the Regional Finals and Final Four in Atlanta if it comes to that.
"If we get to the Final Four in Atlanta I'll book my flight from Buffalo because I'll be up there for offseason conditioning at that point," said Wood. "You've got to take care of business first before you can play on the weekends."
Wood is careful not to assume too much knowing upsets can always loom, but top seeds typically fare well and knowing his Cardinals have made some deep runs in recent years has him confident Louisville has a chance to cut down the nets come April 8th.
"The only thing that I could see wiping us out if an opponent has the wrong big men for us and we sometimes struggle at the free throw line," said Wood. "A team like Indiana could bomb us from the three-point line. In a one game series in the tournament anything can happen, but the combination of having superstar talent, a few first rounders and a lot of experience coming back from a Final Four team I don't see how you don't like them going deep into the tournament."