Juma switches from hoops to hip hop
Sitting in front of Wilson Juma, long limbed and muscular, you’d be thinking point or shooting guard.
It was actually both positions that I remember him playing when I used to go and watch, before he switched from dominating games in Britain to trying his luck in America, the home of hoops.
Juma had always been athletic even when he was very young playing multiple sports.
He had a passion for football and showed much potential. But he found himself more comfortable with the ball in his hands, and ever since then basketball became his life.
Training under Corry Macgee for a couple of years at LEAP Basketball in Cobham, the teenager proved to be a force to reckoned with and soon found himself in America, competing at prep school with some of the best athletes in Florida.
But one wonders what it must have felt to go through all that. The switch from leafy Surrey to the Sunshine State must have been extreme.
“It felt like I’d done what I needed to do. I was happy to actually set a goal and go through with it and get there and actually see that it works,” he said.
“And trying to get out there, it seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, basically. It was pretty much trying to swim across.
“So when I got there, I felt like I’ve got to make sure I get better, grow as a person and take as much advantage as I could.”
Adapting to life in America wasn’t so easy. It’s one thing to achieve a goal, but it’s altogether another trying to press the reset button and compete again from the bottom of the ladder.
That is what Juma would have been when he arrived in America, some kind of a flawed athlete with potential, but an equal amount of work needed to get rid of all the dust clouding his ability.
Juma said: “It was a big step, dude. I came back home so tired. In fact when I got there for my first try-out, everybody was built, ready to go. I took on the point guard, full court defence the whole session without stopping. And I was shooting well, playing well. That was my first ever workout there.
“The first six games were the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life in basketball”
“I was told I had all the aspects needed, but I just had to get acquainted to the fundamentals of the game. Just being taught different fundamentals that fit with playing college.
“Just playing free is different, College is a lot more organised. You have to be accountable for everything you do. They try to teach you to be a professional.
“Because most people get taught that in high school, I needed to go through that. So I went to prep school.”
Prep school is one big battlefield. It is the furnace between high school and college, where everyone is fighting for that scholarship.
Change or fold
Athletes from many high schools spend a year at prep schools giving their all to secure a place in one of America’s most prestigious colleges.
One outstanding prep school is Findley. It has produced the likes of Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Corey Joseph (San Antonio Spurs) and Anthony Bennet (Cleveland Cavaliers).
Juma played a the Impact Academy in Sarasota, and said: “We were playing against colleges and universities only, so think about all the top prep schools in the US and top universities in Florida.
“Some games we would lose by 30, some games we would win. But I remember the first six games were the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life in basketball.
“Then after those six games, I was put in a position where I’d have to either change or fold. And I made a change, I started working on myself, expanding, growth is painful.
“But when you realise you can do it, it sets you apart from everyone else. I remember there were eight point guards at my prep school and they were all nice, fighting for that scholarship.”
Things were going well for Juma. He was playing well at prep school and gaining attention.
“I remember one session I had got so good, we were put on the court to play one on one against all of them, the 6’5 or 6’3 point guard. I would out-muscle, out-jump and think faster than them. I had adapted myself to the environment,” he said.
And that hard work bore fruit. He would attend the University of Maine, another goal that had been set and achieved in a very short space of time.
“College life is crazy, there is nothing like it. There is a lot going on in college,” he said.
“You have a lot of freedom, people do whatever they want. If you’re a student athlete, you’re a prized possession because you bring money to universities and schools.
“You’re an asset to the school so you are treated with respect.”
But his happiness at Maine would be short lived. Complications with his scholarship meant that a year later, he would be preparing to come back home to England.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, it’s never easy to climb down that mountain of potential. Especially potential that had almost been realised.
But Juma did not cast a negative eye on this move at all.
He said: “I had experienced a lot and got a lot out of being in the US. Coming back was not a problem for me because I felt like in the US I was successful.
“I ended up playing American football and soccer and being successful at both sports. I ended up going to nationals with my soccer team and also successfully attaining a scholarship with my college.
“I felt like I had many places I could put my hands and had opportunities to still play for my national team [Zimbabwe Basketball]. It was one of the things I was actually looking forward to do when I came back home.
“Not necessarily playing professionally, but I just wanted to keep myself active whilst I was attaining my education and work on my other endeavours.”
From hoops to hip hop
And those endeavours have served him well. He now goes by the name of Woddy Green and is an up-and-coming music artist and producer based in Manchester.
Also a member of the hip hop collective Roots Raddix, he said: “Music is something I took lightly and I took for granted. But I am grateful that I was involved in music from a young age.
“I got opportunities to learn about music and learn instruments, and the ability to make the music is something I’m also grateful for. To be in a position to push my music further is something I never thought about before.”
Basketball changed his life, he will never forget the places it took him; playing in America and for Zimbabwe.
But basketball is no longer his life. Juma, aka Woddy Green, is now more known for his poetic flows and lyrical genius than his ability to dominate on the court.
You can follow Woddy Green on Twitter.