Pitt Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon has always been able to lean on his veteran leadership.
Usually always blessed with an experienced basketball team, things took a turn in a hurry last season as the Panthers became extremely young almost overnight.
His one leader- Ashton Gibbs- turned out to be anything but that and the youth showed up in Pitt’s disappointing record.
But things may be back to normal for Dixon and the Panthers, because once again he has that leader on the floor.
This year, it is senior point guard Tray Woodall who has assumed the role of leader and through three games the results have been good.
“He has been great,” said Dixon. “He understands not only what we are trying to do as a team, but also what is expected of him individually.”
It’s not just what Woodall has done for the Panthers on the floor as he has been all about sharing the basketball and naturally playing good team defense, but in his fourth year in a Pitt uniform, he has become a second coach on the floor.
In addition to leading in terms of production, as Woodall has got off to a very nice start to the season by averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 assists through Pitt’s 4-0 start to the season.
But even more impressive has been the way that Woodall has lead by example for the younger Pitt players, most notably freshman James Robinson, who Woodall has taken under his wing. That’s something they didn’t have a year ago with a guy like Gibbs.
“I just try to be there for the younger guys,” said Woodall. “They can come to me with questions, but I think by showing them how to practice the right way goes a long way. We are an unselfish team and it starts with the way we practice and ultimately that starts with me.”
For Pitt to be successful in 2013, they need Woodall to be not only very good, but healthy as well, which if you follow the social media networks is a big question mark.
Leaders also lead with their performance in games, especially when times are tough.
That was never more evident than Saturday night against Oakland.
With Pitt trailing by 18 with just over 11 minutes remaining, not one Panthers player had his head down. A lot of that credit goes to Dixon, but give some to Woodall as well as he was constantly in the ear of each player.
Having a horrible game from the floor at the time, missing all eight of his attempts from the floor, it was a Woodall three that started the Pitt comeback. He made several other plays down the stretch as well that played a big role in the Panthers come from behind win.
Teams often take on the personality of their coaches and leaders and in this case, it is heart, something that Woodall addressed after the Oakland game.
“We couldn’t shoot and we weren’t good defensively,” said the senior point guard. “But we played with heart. We showed heart and we fought the entire time. I’m proud of everyone for that.”
Woodall has come a long way, not only from his freshman season, but from his injury riddled campaign from just a season ago.
In that span, he’s not only become the leader of this team, but has answered every challenge Dixon has thrown his way. Just like a true leader should.
“We have challenged him to become that leader and to really get better on the defensive end of the floor,” added Dixon. “He has worked hard to become a very good defensive guard and he keeps getting better every day. He’s done everything we as coaches have asked and more.”
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