One of the new faces on the Robert Morris men’s basketball coaching staff is a familiar one to longtime Pittsburgh basketball fans.
Former Pitt point guard Tray Woodall is the Colonials’ new director of basketball operations.
Woodall was a point guard for the Panthers from 2008 to 2013 and after his professional career overseas, he spent one year on the coaching staff of former Panthers assistant Joe Lombardi at IUP.
It’s been a quick journey through the coaching ranks for Woodall, who played professionally until 2015. But his desire to someday become a coach has been around for a long time.
“If you go back 8th grade, I was a featured in ‘Miracle at St. Anthony’s’ by Adrain Wojnarowski,” Woodall said. “I was an 8th grader. I was the only 8th grader in the whole gym at coach’s clinics. I knew then, as a kid, that I always wanted to coach.”
Since then, everything thing that he’s done has been a build-up to this point.
“Coming from St. Anthony’s, playing for coach Bob Hurley for four years, that helped me get into college and prepare for college,” Woodall said.
“Playing for Coach [Jamie] Dixon, how detail-oriented he is and defensive-minded helped me become a mentally tough player. It helped with my patience and understanding of the game and seeing the floor in his own way. His coaching style, it only helped me as a player as a person and as a coach.”
Woodall was always a skilled basketball player. He averaged over 11 point per game as a junior and a senior at Pitt. But being the point guard and being trusted to play a big role in Dixon’s system helped Woodall build the leadership skills required for coaching later in his career.
“For the most part, I think that point guards typically spend the most time with our head coaches, just trying to understand different things,” he said. “It’s like the quarterback in football. You just have an understanding of the offense and defense, making the correct reads and communicating it to your teammates. I think it’s a natural transition.”
After that, his time spent in Europe gave him plenty of time to contemplate what the next step would be after his playing career was over.
“Being overseas, it helps you understand who you are as a person,” he said. “You really get to know yourself because you spend the majority of your time alone — away from your family, away from your friends.”
What Woodall decided was that he wanted to continue to make an impact on the lives of young basketball players.
“I’ve always wanted to make an impact on player’s lives,” he said. I know how important those connections are as a player myself.”
One of those connections helped Woodall land his first job, as Joe Lombardi, a former Pitt assistant under Dixon, was looking for an assistant coach at IUP. He hired Woodall and got his career off the ground.
“I had a great experience being able to learn and be able to hone my skills under Coach Lombardi,” Woodall said. “They have a first-class program. I’m grateful for the opportunity he’s given me. With him, Coach Hurley and Coach Lombardi, I feel like I’ve been taught by a lot of great coaches.”
After just one season with the Crimson Hawks, Woodall heard about an opportunity at Robert Morris, where he also had a connection with head coach Andy Toole.
“I’ve known Andy Toole since I was about 15, 16 years old,” Woodall said, recalling Toole as a regular at camps and other events when he was being recruited. Toole, who was an assistant at Robert Morris at the time, is a Staten Island native. Woodall was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Paterson, New Jersey.
“He’s one of the guys that I’ve respected for half my life as a coach and as a person in the basketball world growing up,” Woodall said.
Toole immediately recognized Woodall’s ability to connect with young athletes and hired him, along with assistant coach Danté Jackson, in early June.
“Danté and Tray both have a great ability to communicate and relate to today’s player,” Toole said in a press release. “I think they’ll be invaluable assets to our program as we look to compete for a Northeast Conference championship.”
The DOBO position will be a new one for Woodall, but he said he feels it will help him become a more-rounded coach on the way to his ultimate goal.
“It’s learning,” he said. “I went from my first year being able to travel and recruit and be on the road and things like that, to now this gives me the opportunity to learn some administrative things. At some point my career, I’d like to be a head coach. Being a DOBO is giving me the administrative duties and how the program operates.”
Coaches typically lead a transient life as the progress through the ranks, but Woodall’s first two steps haven’t taken him far from home — that is, his new home.
“I been here since 2008,” he said. “I’ve told guys before that New Jersey and New York, my family is from there, but Pittsburgh is turning into my home. I’ve been here since 2008. I have a great deal of respect for the city and I feel the city has a great deal of respect for me. It’s always been a place I feel like I can raise my family.”