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College Basketball

Jermaine Woods gave himself 10 years to become a head coach. He’s getting his shot with Coppin State women’s basketball.

When Jermaine Woods joined the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team in July 2013 as an assistant coach, he made a promise to his wife Natasha.

“I told my wife 10 years ago when I was at Virginia Tech that if I wasn’t a head coach in Year 10, I would give it up and be with my family,” he said. “I gave myself 10 years.”

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Woods delivered on that promise. Now in his 10th year on the college level, he is the new head women’s basketball coach at Coppin State. He replaces Laura Harper, the former Maryland standout who left in April for Towson.

Coppin State women's basketball coach Jermaine Woods was promoted from associate head coach on May 26 to replace Laura Harper, who agreed in April to move crosstown and take over the program at Towson.

The promotion has put Woods in the somewhat awkward position of living in Baltimore while Natasha, 18-year-old daughter Nyjae, 11-year-old daughter Kerrington and 5-year-old son Jeremiah call Winston-Salem, North Carolina, home. But Woods is buoyed by the support of his family, especially his wife.

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“She said, ‘You’ve got to take this. This is what you’ve wanted,’” he said. “It manifested, man. Sometimes you’ve got to speak it into existence.”

The joy from Woods and his family might be matched by that of his players.

“Everyone was extremely happy not only for ourselves but for him,” redshirt junior guard Mossi Staples said. “We knew how much he wanted to be a head coach. That was his end goal when it came to coaching on the collegiate level.”

Woods’ debut has been rougher than anticipated courtesy of the Eagles’ slow start. They dropped to 1-3 after producing a season-low 35 points in a 15-point setback to visiting Georgetown Wednesday afternoon before an announced 2,800 at the Physical Education Complex in Baltimore.

Despite the record, Woods’ background would seem to have prepared him for this. At Division III Christopher Newport, he set the school record for most 3-pointers in a season when he hit 113 in 29 games in 2002-03. He continues to rank third in program history in career 3-pointers (257 from 2000-03) and sixth in scoring average (17.2 in 77 games).

After playing professionally in Poland, Woods returned to Virginia to coach at Maury High in Norfolk where he guided the school to a 61-18 record and appearances in the regional finals over a three-year span. He spent two seasons each at Virginia Tech and Old Dominion and three more at Wake Forest.

Woods joined Harper’s staff in 2020, serving as the associate head coach. Staples said Woods was a favorite among the players.

“When he was our assistant coach, I feel like we definitely gravitated more toward him,” she said. “He’s definitely like that father figure, that uncle that gives you that type of love. On the court, we just knew how smart he was with the plays that he would put in, the way we would execute our defense.”

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On the court, Coppin State women's basketball coach Jermaine Woods has sought to install an up-and-down motion offense that ensures each player touches the ball at least once.

When Harper agreed in April to leave Coppin State for Towson, Woods said he had no intention of joining her and vowed to either succeed her or return to his family. Sophomore guard Jewel Watkins said the players lobbied the administration to promote Woods.

“We know that he has our best interests,” she said. “So that felt safe for us. That’s what we were familiar with. We know what he wants for us, we know he wants the best for us, and we know that he’s going to push us.”

Now at the helm, Woods has sought to add structure to the program. He worked with the players to establish a set of guidelines such as being ready for practices, meetings and film sessions five minutes before the scheduled time, setting a 3.0 GPA as the academic standard, and encouraging players to spend as much time together as possible.

On the court, Woods has sought to install an up-and-down motion offense that ensures each player touches the ball at least once. One reason is the absence of reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and graduate student shooting guard Jaia Alexander (Roland Park), who is sidelined until at least next month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason.

Another reason is a desire to cultivate production from as many sources as possible.

“Last year, obviously, we had the player of the year, and we went to her,” he said. “We won a lot of games because we depend on her a lot of times, but the other four people weren’t moving. This year, they’re moving all over the court, and everybody is moving. We’ve just got to make some shots.”

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Staples said practices have intensified under Woods’ supervision, but the results are worthwhile.

“I would say that practices are faster-paced,” she said. “Even if we’re sore, we know we’ve got to push through it because we’re still going to work. We’re definitely in better condition than we were last year.”

Woods admitted that he is more of a disciplinarian than Harper may have been. Watkins said she and her teammates don’t take his occasional outbursts personally.

“Coach Woods just knows what he wants,” she said. “When he expresses that as he yells, you just have to take it. You have to be mentally tough in the game, you have to be mentally tough off the court. It’s really just building each one of us to be tough. He can be hard at times, but he’s just going to make us tougher. I don’t look at it in a negative way. I just look at it as we’re going to be tougher.”

Whether that mindset will translate into success remains to be seen. Under Harper, last year’s 15-13 overall record included a school-record six victories against NCAA Division I opponents and the program’s first winning season since the 2013-14 squad went 17-14. But Woods said the bar will not be lowered.

“The goal is to win the MEAC,” he said. “That’s the standard. I think if we can stay healthy and get our pieces back, we have a chance. I’m going to speak that into existence. When my players read this, I want them to know.”

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Saint Peter’s at Coppin State

Sunday, 2 p.m.


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