Catching up with Tray Woodall

Pitt News File Photo

Pitt News File Photo

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

After seeing the court for 139 games over his Pitt career that spanned from 2008 to 2013, former star point guard Tray Woodall left the University and trekked the globe.

Since leaving Oakland, Woodall has played professionally in Turkey, Greece, Kosovo and Mexico, serving as a role player throughout his career. After his time with the Jefes de Fuerza Lagunera— Woodall’s team in Mexico— came to an end, he returned to spend the summer in Pittsburgh, working out at the Petersen Events Center and waiting for his next opportunity, whether that be coaching collegiately or playing abroad again.

TPN: What was it like leaving Pittsburgh and going to Istanbul? Was there any culture shock?

TW: For me, not really. I’m the same person I am. I’m so used to doing things on my own, I’m kinda used to moving into a new city, I need to just be the same person I am. I don’t really explore much, I’m just the type of person that is about my business. So I went to Istanbul with the mindset that, “I’m just here to handle my business,” so I could better my life and come home, and enjoy it at home. But I actually had a really, really good experience [in Istanbul]. I think it’s a really good city. Basketball-wise it’s a top-notch league, and city-wise, it wasn’t too much of a cultural shock besides the Muslim aspect I had to get used to. Their prayer songs go off five times a day, so that was something I had to get used to. And the type of foods, eating a lot healthier foods, because most of the time it’s chicken or lamb. That protein kind of helped me restructure my diet.

TPN: What are some of the pros and cons of playing abroad? *

TW: The pros, well I think obviously you get an opportunity to continue playing. Everybody who plays professionally, they’re fortunate enough to play after their college career. You also get a chance to stamp up your passport a little bit and see different parts of the world, and you start to appreciate how much we have in America compared to how people have things over there. You just start to look at different values as well. Over there they value farming, they value family, they value their day-to-day working world, while here people think working is a burden, and its actually a blessing and a great opportunity. The cons obviously, you’re away from family for eight to nine months of the year. You’re seven to eight hours ahead in time, and mostly communication comes over the phone or over Skype. You tend to miss [your family], and you start to appreciate your family a lot more also.

TPN: You still pay pretty close attention to Pitt. What do you think of its current roster headed into the season? *

TW: It’s rare that we’ve had a Pitt team that transformed from a young team to an older team. You went from having freshmen and sophomores to having pretty much all juniors and seniors. You’re coming in with one freshman [guard Damon Wilson] whose presence is more of a senior. I think you have a little bit of an advantage opposed to other teams. The thing is now, you’re implementing so many different players, it takes a while for you to get to know them. I don’t think this team will click right away, but they’ll definitely hit their stride later on during the season. I think this team could definitely be special.

TPN: You were teammates with James Robinson and Chris Jones. How have you seen those players develop, going from seeing them on the court to an onlooker?…

TW: The first thing that comes to mind with James is his body. He was always a bigger-bodied guy, but you see how he trimmed down, and you see how much work he puts in. He’s always put in the work. But transitioning from my successor to a leader, it’s great to see. Because everyone’s known him as the quiet type, but he’s stepped up to being that vocal leader that this team needed, and that’s just great. It spreads. It sucks that both of those guys are injured [heading into the season], but they’re definitely putting in the most work possible to get back where they need to be. I know Chris redshirted my senior year, and I know he definitely wants to be on the floor. It sucks that he’s not on the floor right now, but he’s there, you know he’s there. He’ll come back with a vengeance for sure.

TPN: How much have you kept in touch with Jamie Dixon after leaving Pitt? Is he still a big presence in your life? *

TW: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s funny, I try to tell these guys how much Dixon has changed personality-wise since I first got to school. Dixon would attest to this, when I was in school, I was one of the joking guys. He’d be at a podium, reciting a speech, and when it goes quiet, I’d say something funny like “Yeah, Dixon!” and he’d immediately know it was me, just to lighten him up a little bit. Him being so personable now, he’s made some tremendous strides that are amazing to see. And I think these guys are starting to appreciate it, because he does so much for this team. But definitely, I try to keep in touch with coach Dixon as much as I can. He’s definitely been a better communicator as far as texting goes, because he was one of these guys that talks on the phone, because obviously he comes from the old school. He’s been getting more in-tuned with texting, as well as being more social media-friendly. I’ve started to build a little bit of a relationship with coach Smoke [Marlon Williamson]. I’m happy I’ve been around [in Pittsburgh] this whole summer, I got to learn a lot of tendencies from a lot of guys. It’s just been great to be around.

TPN: Is coaching something you’d be interested in in the future? *

TW: Coaching is exactly what I want to do. That is my goal, that is my future endeavor. Anyone that asks me what I want to do career-wise, I’ve always said I wanted to help. Period. I’m most useful at the college level, that’s where my knowledge and my experience is, especially at my age. Do I want to hang it up and stop playing? Not really. But if I had the opportunity to coach at the college level at the moment, I would definitely stop playing and start coaching.

TPN: Going back to another one of your teammates, what’s it like watching former center Steven Adams succeed in the NBA?

TW: If anyone read any of my prior interviews, I’ve been saying this forever. Steven Adams will be one of the best bigs in the NBA because he’s fearless, his work ethic and his desire to improve. You don’t see a lot of bigs like that. His toughness is unmatched. It’s great to see.

TPN: What is your opinion on the decision for all sports to transition to the Pitt script logo for the 2016-2017 season?

TW: Love it. The crazy thing is, when I was in school — I think I was a sophomore or a junior — I actually presented the idea of doing the whole Pitt blackout, and it was great to see [the school do it last season]. Athletics said they didn’t want to do it because West Virginia had their black jersey. But I thought that was reason enough to do it because we had the rivalry. Especially at that time when we had that rivalry, that would be something great. Panthers are black. But I love the Pitt script logo. I think it’s great that we’re going back to that. I’m eager to see what our uniforms are gonna look like basketball-wise.

TPN: They’re bringing the Backyard Brawl back for football.

TW: In 2022, right? [laughs] By 2022, a lot of these guys won’t even know where the tradition of the Backyard Brawl came from. For some strange reason, I feel that Pitt and West Virginia are going to meet in the NCAA Tournament this year or next year, or in a bowl game. Some way, somehow it’s gonna happen before 2022.

TPN: There hasn’t been any word on the basketball front for the Backyard Brawl. How excited would you be to see the two teams play at least one more time? *

TW: [The Backyard Brawl] was my favorite game to play. Every single year of my career. That was the one game you knew that you just couldn’t wait for. You knew it was going to happen twice that year, and you knew it was gonna be an intense game. I wish it would have happened this year, with guys like Mike Young who’s been around Pittsburgh for a while and understands the tradition, or guys like James Robinson, who’s played since his freshman year and he kind of sees how valuable those games are. Those are lifetime experiences that I don’t think the NCAA takes into consideration as they should. These are lifetime experiences, the same as the Duke and North Carolina rivalry is. Though media-wise it’s not as blown up as theirs, and it’s probably not as long and dragged out, but for guys like us, this is what we live for. This is what players come to Pitt for. They can’t wait to be a part of that tradition and rivalry. It is what it is. I understand why things are done, but it’s not for the most genuine reasons. Everything is about the dollar.