By: Director of PantherVision and Pitt Panthers Television, Paul Barto
One day in 2008, Media Relations Director Greg Hotchkiss
brought Tray Woodall to my office. Tray
had a fat lip, and a request. He wanted
to re-do his video board headshot because he didn't like how he looked due to
how swollen his mouth was. I laughed at
him, because it was a strange request from a freshman, and asked him how he got
the fat lip. He just blurted out "Sam!"
I laughed and said, "keep your head up and always keep an eye on Sam."
One of the unique things about this job is that I spend so
much time on the sidelines at Pitt athletic events, but only when we're on the
road. I've seen some of the best, and
conversely, some of the most difficult moments that have occurred in the past nine
years through the lens of a video camera.
Sometimes, what really sticks with you isn't just what
happens on the field or court. It's the
memories of joy and celebration in a victorious locker room. At other times, it's the crushing silence and
disappointment that accompanies a tough loss.
With just seconds to go in the 2009 Elite Eight game vs.
Villanova, I was seated to the right of the basket on the floor with just a few
seconds left. Pitt fans know all too
well what happened next. And in those
moments, you pack up quickly, head to the bus quietly, and prepare for the trip
home. You don't talk to the players or
coaches, you just give them space and time with their thoughts.
Once we boarded the plane in Boston, I found myself across
the aisle from Sam and Tray, who each occupied their own row of seats. Both of them sat very quietly, backs against
the windows, for quite some time.
Finally, Sam leaned over the back of his seat and spoke
briefly to Tray. His words were a
message about being a leader, and carrying on the next season in the way that
Pitt basketball teams always have. I
don't know if Tray remembers it. And those who know Sam know it was unusual,
as he typically isn't a very vocal person.
It occurred to me that even though our plane was going to
Pittsburgh, Sam and Tray were headed in very different directions when we
landed. For Sam, this leg of his journey
was over. He was off to the NBA. For Tray, it was just the beginning as he still
had four years of college ahead.
One of the great joys of working in athletics is seeing the transformations
that take place in young people as they grow and mature during their time in
college. It's been a joy to see Tray go
from that 18 year old sleeping under a blanket as we flew home from Boston, to
a young man who's become one of the leaders of his team. He's grown so much as
a person, and obviously that's what matters most. But just like he told Sam he would that
night, he's upheld the tradition of Pitt basketball on and off the court. He's been tough. He's worked hard. He's a leader. He is, as we always say around the office
about so many of our student-athletes, "a great kid." Not so much a kid anymore I guess.
It will be fun watching him for one more year, and to watch
him pass it on. It appears he kept an
eye on Sam after all.