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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

NorthArk welcomes Wooldridge

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Garrett Wooldridge signed a letter of intent May 8 to play basketball for the North Arkansas College Pioneers next fall. Seated, from left are: Paula Baldridge, Garrett Wooldridge and Marty Wooldridge; standing: North Arkansas College Head Coach Jerry Thomason. Photo/Looney [Order this photo]
The Mammoth Spring Bears have had quite a bit of success on the basketball court the past four years, finishing high atop the conference standings and battling for a regional tournament title on a regular basis.

Two years ago, the Bears made it to the Class 1A State Tournament semi-final round, before taking things a step further last season by topping Sacred Heart in the state championship contest for the school's first-ever state crown in basketball.

There have been plenty of reasons for the impressive stretch that Mammoth Spring has fashioned during that time frame, but maybe one of the biggest factors has been the Bears' active and bruising front line of players.

Players like Wes Coffey, Caleb Brown, Wayne Coffey and Mason Brown.

Those players have all played huge roles on the low blocks for Mammoth Spring the past couple of years.

But at the heart of that core of talented big men is Garrett Wooldridge.

Now, Wooldridge gets a change to swap paint with the big boys, as he signed a letter of intent May 8 to play basketball at North Arkansas College in Harrison next fall.

Wooldridge and NAC Head Coach Jerry Thomason have gotten to know each other through the years, with Mammoth Spring competing in the college's annual high school invitational tournament.

The Bears finished second to Class 3A West Fork the past two seasons.

"Well, he's played in several of our invitational tournaments over here throughout his career, so we've seen him progress over the years," Thomason said. "And also, being on a winning team that's had success at the state level kind of raises your stock, also."

Selected to play in the upcoming high school All-Star game at Bud Walton Arena June 20, Wooldridge ended his career at Mammoth Spring by averaging 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists on a nightly basis for the Bears. This, despite the fact he was sidelined for 27 games during his sophomore campaign because of a pre-season knee injury that year. The season before that, Wooldridge and the junior Bears racked up an impressive 29-0 season.

With his deft touch and abilities around the hoop, Wooldridge probably could have tossed in 25 or 30 points a game had he wanted to. But according to Mammoth Spring Head Coach Jeremy Cude, that was not how Wooldridge wanted it.

"Like all players, Garrett loves to score. However, he loves winning more and because of his desire to win he is always willing to share the ball," Cude said. "This makes him much tougher to defend since he doesn't force many bad shots. And he has great vision and passing ability. He also understands that he draws a lot of attention and when teams are overly concerned with stopping Garrett, he trusts in his teammates to get open and finish and they trust he will pass instead of forcing bad shots."

Wooldridge was named to the All-State Tournament team three times, the All-State team twice, All-Conference twice and he was twice the Regional Tournament MVP.

"We were looking for a small forward type guy with a little size and athleticism," said Thomason. "And, he's got good grades and a great work ethic and thought he'd be a good fit for us over here. We'll probably play him at small forward or off-guard. I like his ability to put the ball in the hole around the basket, along with his shot-blocking abilities. His overall blue collar work ethic -- getting in there and working hard -- is another thing I like about him."

The Bears made it hard on their opponents en route to the state title game last season, as other teams were forced to either contend with the ball being in the hands of Houston Cooper and Matt Turnbough at the top of the key -- both of who could drill the outside shot -- or down in the paint in the possession of Wayne Coffey, Mason Brown or Wooldridge -- who could all spin to the bucket for a quick two points.

"No doubt that has been one of our biggest advantages on most nights over the last three or four seasons," said Cude. "Each of those guys have done a great job and the future looks bright with a few solid posts returning and some big kids moving up from junior high. We've also been fortunate to have guards that could handle and shoot it to take some pressure off the posts. It always seemed like our opponents had to pick their poison."

With all the invitational tournaments in all parts of the state that high school teams play in these days, plus with all the summer basketball they participate in between school years, it's a pretty safe bet to say that Wooldridge is familiar with the hoopsters he will be joining at NorthArk.

"We recruit a lot of kids locally that have played against each other and know each other, so there will just be a few guys that we'll have in that will be new to him. A lot of these guys have even played summer ball together," Thomason said. "They'll know each other and will fit in fine. Knowing each other will be an asset, but they'll be playing for a new guy and my system's probably different than what they're used to, but they'll all be on the same page as far as learning what I expect."

And Cude thinks it won't take long for Wooldridge to catch on and fit right in with Thomason's squad.

"I think Garrett will be a great addition to NAC He's a great competitor and leader and knows what it takes to win," he said. "As he continues to develop his ball handling and shooting, he will become an even greater asset for them."

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