PITTSBURGH (AP) — Tray Woodall found the note stashed in his locker recently, a not-so subtle message from the Pitt coaching staff. The note contained an article ranking college basketball's top point guards. The senior scanned down until he found his name somewhere in the mid-30s.
If the coaches were looking to get a rise out of Woodall, it didn't exactly work.
"I'm not in high school anymore," he said. "It was cool back in the days to tell guys, 'Yeah I'm Top 10' ... it doesn't even matter now."
There are more pressing matters for Woodall these days than where he stacks up against his peers, namely returning the Panthers to their usual perch near the top of the Big East.
The road back begins on Friday when Pitt hosts Mount St. Mary's in the season opener. It is a chance for Woodall and his teammates to start moving forward after the most disappointing year of coach Jamie Dixon's remarkably successful tenure.
Pitt went 22-17 last winter, but missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade. The Panthers managed to win the College Basketball Invitational, but don't expect there to be a banner-hoisting ceremony.
Ask Woodall about what happened last year, and the letters "CBI" never escape his mouth. While the tournament allowed Pitt to end the season on an up note, the only image that sticks with Woodall are the games he sat out due to a lingering abdominal injury.
"I've got a bad taste in my mouth just because I missed so many games," Woodall said. "I feel like I owe a lot of people. I feel like I missed so many games. I'm just ready to play in a whole season."
So are the rest of the Panthers, who believe a dash of new faces will help return some of the swagger they lacked a year ago.
Dixon typically makes freshmen watch and learn early in the season before giving them a heavy workload, but guard James Robinson and center Steven Adams will both start as a reward for their attention to detail on defense.