Coach in waiting

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

This is a multiple-choice quiz just to see if you are paying attention:

James Bradley Woodson is (a) interested in physical therapy; (b) a master of the thinking man’s board game, Settlers of Catan; (c) a college basketball player who did not score a point all last season; (d) all the above.

Answer time is up.

Brad Woodson’s name leaped off the list of Southeastern Conference scholars. He has again earned respect for Tennessee basketball. For three years, he has helped make the team better while receiving minimum recognition. Day after day after day he practiced with passion, pushing others toward improvement. He is astute. He knows exactly what needs to be done.

Game after game, he sat near the end of the bench. During timeouts, he patted peers on the back and urged them on. Not surprisingly, teammates noticed.

It is finally his turn for congratulations.

Brad is one of 33 Volunteers on the 2018 winter segment of the SEC academic honor roll. Kortney Dunbar represents women’s basketball. The other 31, including UT athlete of the year Erika Brown, are from swimming and diving. Each averages at least 3.0 on an academic scale of 4. Some have perfect scores. Indeed, many UT students go to school.

Brad majors in kinesiology. Others’ fields of study include business analytics, geology, chemical engineering, psychology, anthropology, accounting and marketing. All sound more challenging than breakfast at Hardees.

Woodson came from Riverdale High in Murfreesboro. His father, Kevin, was his coach. Brad was a good player, a 6-1 guard, 15.8 points per game, more than capable of college competition.

I checked some other stuff. He never missed a day of school. He graduated with honors. He was chapter president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

He wanted to attend UT. He had connections. One of his coaches was Jay Spurlock, a former basketball manager. One of his acquaintances was an assistant on Donnie Tyndall’s staff. Indeed, Brad would be welcomed as a walk-on.

Before he could get to Knoxville, Tyndall was fired. Woodson thought that was that.

But, just in case, he went to the basketball office to ask if he could volunteer. He waited and waited to see somebody. By fate or God’s direction, Rick Barnes walked in. Brad was surprised that the new coach had heard of him. He had actually looked at Woodson’s promotional video.

“He invited me to watch practice. It kind of all happened at once. The timing was great.”

Barnes said he was looking for people with high basketball IQ. Woodson, son of a coach, had it. Barnes wanted shooters. Woodson had hit 48 per cent at Murfreesboro. Barnes immediately identified practice potential, maybe not fast enough for the SEC but athletic, very competitive, great attitude.

“It was crazy how it all happened,” said Woodson.

In three seasons, Brad has appeared briefly in 17 games, when guards were in foul trouble or games were almost over, one way or the other. He played six minutes this past season. He missed both shots.

Teammates hold him in high regard. They know he gives more than he gets. They respect his scholastic accomplishments. They admit he dominates the team fun game, Catan. Grant Williams says he is gaining but is no better than runner-up.

Kevin and Mary Woodson are very proud of their guy. They do not miss games at UT. Both are teachers. Kevin resigned as coach so they could keep up with the Volunteers’ schedule.

“From the beginning, not doing well in academics was never an option,” said the father. “Three years ago, we talked about the possibility that he wouldn’t play much at Tennessee. He wanted to go and contribute whatever he could.

“His will to win has not diminished.”

If Brad becomes a physical therapist, somebody will likely hire him the first day he is available.

He might become a coach. Basketball needs smart coaches. There is a shortage.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is [email protected]


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