Takayo Siddle & Nicole Woods: The State of Seahawk Hoops (’1on1 with Jon Evans’ podcast)
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - UNCW head basketball coaches Nicole Woods and Takayo Siddle share a lot in common. They both grew up in North Carolina (Woods in Gastonia, Siddle in Eden), played high school and college hoops in the state (Siddle at Gardner-Webb, Woods at Belmont Abbey) and spent years as assistant coaches with in-state programs (Woods at UNC Charlotte, Siddle at Gardner-Webb, UNCW and North Carolina State) before coming to Wilmington to take top jobs.
But Siddle has already been where Woods is going. He took over the Seahawk men’s program in 2020 after it had struggled through three sub-par seasons of 10, 10 and 11 victories. After a first season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Siddle’s past two squads have won 51 games and reached the Coastal Athletic Association tournament championship games in both seasons. Hired in March 2023, Woods is now charged with resurrecting a Seahawk women’s program that won just eight games in the past two seasons combined and has not had a winning record since going 18-12 in the 2018-19 campaign.
“I take pride, obviously, in my program here on the men’s side,” Siddle said. “But I’ve always wanted to see the (UNCW) women’s program succeed as well. Because I feel me and Nicole, we work hand in hand. I think as we continue to succeed, it can only help her and when she starts getting this thing rolling, which I think she’s going to do very, very quickly, I think she’s going to do an unbelievable job. I think we can feed off each other and help each other.”
“One thing he (Coach Siddle) said to me from the beginning, he said, ‘Get people who fit who you are and that are good people to the core,’” Woods said. “I feel like a lot of times you might see a four- or five-star recruit, and they might be an amazing player, but they just don’t fit who you are as a person and what you want your program to be. That’s big for me, in terms of the young ladies that I bring into this program. I only brought one in this year and could have brought many in. But I passed on a lot because they just didn’t fit who we were and who I wanted our team to be.”
The fact that Woods would become the Lady Seahawks’ head coach would not have been a consideration a year and a half ago. She spent ten seasons on staff at Charlotte, growing in responsibility to eventually become associate head coach. In an April 2022 story for her hometown newspaper, The Gaston Gazette, Woods is quoted as saying, “I am one of the few assistant coaches that has no desire to be a head coach at all.”
“I didn’t want to be a head coach, because I didn’t think that I was still be able to have the relationships with the players that I really enjoyed on a day-to-day basis,” Woods said. “I didn’t think from what I had seen that would be possible. And I was just fearful that I wasn’t going to be good enough. I was fearful of failing. One day I just asked myself, ‘Why not me?’ Once I answered that question and said, ‘Alright, Lord, I’m going to do what you have me to do,’ I went to my boss and told her, ‘Listen, I don’t know what’s next, but I know my time here is done. I’m going to help you to find my replacement, to recruit some kids before I leave. I think I want to be a head coach, and I’m going to do what I need to do to make that happen.’ The next day, I got a call from UNCW.”
Siddle has put his stamp on the men’s basketball program in a hurry. He was named the CAA Coach of the Year after the 2021-22 season when his team won 27 games, reached the CAA tournament final, and then came home with the program’s first post-season title in winning the College Basketball Invitational championship. A 24-10 third season followed, with another CAA finals appearance, earning Siddle a five-year contract extension.
“When I took over, some of my mentors told me, ‘Just make sure to be yourself and don’t waver for anybody, to the things that you believe in, don’t waver at all,’” he said. “Like Nicole mentioned, you have to have the right personnel around you. That’s the team. That’s the coaching staff. That’s the support staff. Just getting personnel in place and establishing your culture, what you’re going to be about. Your standards. Your expectations, all of that. It wasn’t where it needed to be. So, we had to do a complete facelift with all of that stuff and you know, it wasn’t comfortable, but it had to be done. And I think we’re off to a pretty good start.”
Siddle’s 2023-24 team will have plenty of experience and firepower. He returns five players who started at least 14 games a season ago, including his top four scorers: Trazarien White (14.2 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game), Maleeck Harden-Hayes (9.8 ppg), Shykeim Phillips (8.4 ppg) and Donovan Newby (8.1 ppg).
“We’re going to be fast,” Siddle says when sizing up this year’s team. “We’re going to be explosive, offensively, more than we have in the past. I think will be nine to ten (players) deep with not a lot of drop-off. I think we’re going to be fast and explosive on offense and will be able to play the way that I’ve been wanting to play since I’ve been here. Then defensively, we’ll be able to press the entire game like I’ve always wanted to. We’ll be able to use our bench and throw waves of energy. I’m excited about this group, and if we can stay healthy, it’ll be exactly what I envisioned when I took over the job.”
Woods starts her tenure with just eleven players on the Lady Seahawks’ roster, led by returning seniors Lexi Jackson (7.1 points per game in 2022-23) and Evan Miller (7.0 ppg). Mary Ferrito, a transfer from Wisconsin, became Woods’ first signee in May.
“I can guarantee you a few things,” Woods said in previewing her first UNCW squad. “Number one, when you come to watch us play, you’re going to feel that it’s different. The energy in which we play with, we’re going to compete, we’re going to rebound and we’re going to defend every single night. I believe when you do those three things, you always have a chance to win the game. I tell my girls all the time, nobody except for us believes what we can do, and so now it’s our job to get out there and show everybody who we are.”
When I asked the coaches to define “the status of the Seahawks,” their answers reflected where Siddle and Woods are in their journeys to remake their programs.
“I would say we’re rebuilding in every way,” Woods said. “Rebuilding the culture, and rebuilding the basketball side of it. We read a book called The Energy Bus, so everybody’s on the bus. We’re all headed in the right direction. And I’m really looking forward to what’s to come and I tell everybody, you just got to come and see for yourself.”
“We’re in a good place,” Siddle said about his team. “We’re ready for breakthrough, they’re ready for a breakthrough. We’re ready to do something very special.”
My conversation with Nicole Woods and Takayo Siddle covered many other issues, including turning points in their careers, college sports of today versus when they competed at their universities, and what they think of the conference realignments and its impact on UNCW’s athletics programs. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did, and that you have the chance to visit Trask Coliseum to see their teams in action.
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