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Live Wire Feature: Tray Woodall

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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.

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