Gorman: Pitt's Woodall prepares to join 1,000-point club
Tray Woodall wasn't keeping track of his career point total until he started closing in on joining Pitt's 1,000-point club.
Now, Woodall is well aware that he needs 11 points — just a fraction above his scoring average — to become the 41st player in school history to reach the milestone.
The only thing the 6-foot fifth-year senior point guard wants to do more than score his 1,000th point Saturday at Cincinnati is to do so in a victory. It would mark the Panthers' 100th victory in games in which he has played during the past five seasons.
“Your name can go down in the history books, but you're known for winning,” Woodall said. “I know there's a lot of critics who didn't think I was capable of some of the things that I've done. I even think some of the things I've done flew under the radar, and I probably won't get credit for it. But as long as we win, my individual accomplishments don't even matter to me. People can still, to this day, tell me all the things that I haven't done. But as long as we win, we can talk about all the things we've done as a team.”
What Woodall has done individually is impressive given the way his career started. He played the first 10 games of the 2008-09 season before a knee injury forced a redshirt. He started the first 11 games the next season but saw his playing time reduced by a third when starter Jermaine Dixon returned from an injury.
Woodall says he heard talk at the time that he should transfer. That's when the Brooklyn, N.Y., native, whose mother, Theresa Ratliff, is a recovering alcoholic who lives in the Paterson, N.J., projects, leaned on his personal motto: Tough times don't last. Tough people do.
“Once you hack it out, at the end the success is much greater and the taste is much sweeter,” Woodall said. “This is fun for me right now.”
Woodall waited three seasons to take over the point for the Panthers, but it wasn't until he missed 11 games with an abdominal injury last season and the majority of the Marquette game with a concussion Jan. 12 that Pitt fans learned to value Woodall's worth.
“People didn't appreciate how much every team needs an experienced point guard,” Woodall said. “Honestly, I think last year they gained a great appreciation for me in my absence.”
Even so, Woodall is fueled by his failings. He dwelled on missing the front end of one-and-ones with Pitt trailing by three in the final minute in losses to Cincinnati and Louisville.
“I'm a senior who's been here for a long time,” Woodall said. “I'm supposed to knock down shots like that, so it was frustrating. I definitely want the ball in those last moments. I'm that confident.”
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon certainly noticed, as he called Woodall's number when the Panthers needed a big basket at Providence.
Woodall delivered in the final minute, just as he did against Syracuse, when he sank four free throws in the final 1:08, and Seton Hall, with a layup and five free throws in the final 50 seconds.
Dixon notes this about Woodall: His shooting percentage has improved to 48.3 percent, including 37.5 percent on 3-pointers, in Big East play; his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.62) ranks third in the league and 20th nationally; and his improved defense corresponds with Pitt winning six of seven.
“He's improved a lot, there's no question about it,” Dixon said. “He's been around a lot of wins. He's obviously been a big factor for us when we didn't have him last year and didn't have him against Marquette this year. But that's how point guards are.”
As point guards go, Woodall has learned from two of Pitt's best. Assistant coach Brandin Knight, the school's all-time assists leader, preached ball security. Predecessor Levance Fields told Woodall to make every possession count.
Soon, Woodall will rank among Pitt's most accomplished point guards. He can become the seventh player in school history to score 1,000 points and dish 500 assists — he already has 544 — and is on pace to finish among the top five.
“It's an honor to be mentioned with those names, the guys who paved the way for point guards at Pitt,” Woodall said. “They were pushing me every day. Eventually I was going to find my own way.”
Who knew it would lead to a place in Pitt's record books?