Wooten's Success Story Started Early
Gregg Wooten was part of a three-headed monster in high school that wreaked havoc in Memphis, Tenn.
Along with teammates Leslie McDonald and Johnny Williams, Wooten led Briarcrest Christian School to 91 wins, three Final Fours and the 2008 state championship during their four years there. All three ended up playing Division I basketball--Wooten at Samford, Williams at George Mason and McDonald at North Carolina.
It's no coincidence that all three turned out to be so talented.
"We had been playing together since seventh grade middle school ball and AAU, and it carried over into high school," Wooten said. "We worked hard and we knew going in if we pushed each other in practice and we pushed our teammates to get better every day, good things would happen.
"Both of them worked hard, and I didn't want them to pass me."
Wooten and McDonald both participated in the First Team program, and Wooten took some time in between his busy schedule at Samford University to tell his story to iHoops.com:
You have a sister who played at the University of Memphis. How big is basketball in your family?
I have an older brother, he's 36 now, and he played too. Basketball has gone all through our family.
When did you think you had a shot at playing college basketball?
In middle school. My middle school coach pushed us to get better and I knew that through working hard I could get to high school and if I kept on working that could carry over into college. It's been in my head since middle school.
How much basketball did you play growing up?
I played year round. AAU the whole summer, going in and out of towns every weekend or every other weekend, and then school comes around and we pretty much get into basketball workouts the first 2-3 weeks of school. I've been playing basketball year-round since 3rd grade.
What did you like and dislike about AAU basketball?
As far as benefits, it allowed me to play against some of the better competition in the country. Early on in high school, I really didn't get the chance to play better competition. We had good teams in Memphis, some good players, but outside of Memphis there really wasn't good competition. AAU helped me out competition-wise.
Some of the downfalls of AAU? It is really political, and when you start getting into high school and start getting close to college, that's really when it starts to change and get political. At a young age it's really not as bad. Once you start getting 15, 16, 17 years old, people start playing favorites and putting people they want to put up on the court and just letting the other people just be along for the ride. What I experienced the last couple of years of AAU I was just along for the ride and that was pretty much it.
What did the First Team program do to prepare you for college?
It helped me a lot. They really gave a lot of information about working hard and getting your grades in high school and helping that carry over into college. It's a totally different ballgame when you transition from high school to college, so they gave us a lot of different information about the transition from high school to college to help us get ready for it.
What was the recruiting process like for you?
It was pretty cool. I think every player dreams about the recruiting stage. It really wasn't stressful at first. When it first started I had a lot of colleges inquiring about me. As the years went on, it started getting smaller because I wasn't getting as much playing time as I had been on the (AAU) circuit. Toward the end, I started getting bothered a little bit by it because I wasn't getting as much attention. I stayed persistent and kept on playing and kept on working hard. I knew things would work out in the end. That's what happened.
Why did you choose Samford?
When I came, I loved the campus. It was a good environment. It was kind of like my high school and I like that. I just hit it off with all of the players on the team right off the bat. I'm an outgoing guy and I like to have fun. They were all open and really down-to-earth people like myself and I thought I'd really fit in with them.
How have college practices been compared to high school?
They're really hard. We do a lot of conditioning in practice. A lot of sprints. We do a lot of free-throw shooting and if you don't make a certain amount of free throws, you have to do some extra sprints. We lift weights three days out of the week. Sometimes we lift before (practice) and sometimes we lift after. It will help us down the road, but I'm still getting adjusted to it. They are three-hour practices and it's tough but it will pay off for us.
What was your favorite part of First Team?
Just the friendships made. There were a lot of people you see out on the non-scholastic basketball circuit but you didn't get the chance to speak to them or you didn't know them. I made a lot of friends there and a lot of friends that I still talk to this day. The friendships were really what I took with me.
Was there any particular event that stood out from First Team?
All of the speakers were really good. I could really relate to the former First Team members that came back to speak to us that were already playing college ball. We could really relate to them because they're our age and they're going through what all of us are getting into. They gave us some good insight and some good pointers on what to expect.
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