Woodall, Pitt hope to bounce back in Big East

| Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, 10:44 a.m.

NEW YORK — Tray Woodall didn't want anyone to know what shape he was in after returning from an abdominal injury last year, and his numbers helped him keep up appearances.

But Pitt's fifth-year senior point guard played in pain the final 20 games of the season after missing 11 of 12 contests with the injury, then had offseason sports hernia surgery.

Now, Woodall plans on staying healthy and making the most of his last season ­— and Pitt's final hurrah in the Big East.

“Personally, I think this could be my best year of my career,” said Woodall, who earned a preseason All-Big East honorable mention.

“And as a team, I think we can accomplish great things. I think we could finish with a Big East championship. I think we could be the best team in Pitt history.”

After finishing last year 5-13 in the Big East and missing the NCAA Tournament after 10 straight appearances, the Panthers were picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches poll, announced Wednesday.

But a healthy Woodall running the floor certainly helps put them in the position to bounce back before their move to the Atlantic Coast Conference beginning in 2013-14.

Coach Jamie Dixon said he wasn't sure what to expect from Woodall after he missed five months recovering from surgery, but he has been pleased with what he's seen the past six months.

“Very few teams are able to survive with a point guard going down,” Dixon said. “You design your offense for a guy and he goes down, there's no harder position in basketball to replace.”

If Woodall gets injured again, the Panthers have highly regarded freshman James Robinson as well as sophomore John Johnson, who could pick up minutes.

The Panthers were 5-7 in the two months Woodall was hurt last year.

“We missed him dearly last year, and it showed,” junior forward Lamar Patterson said.

“As soon as he left, our season went down. But if he stays healthy this year, we should be good, and he looks great. He looks like the old Tray and better, actually.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7980 or kprice@tribweb.com.

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