By Jeff Goodman
Each game, just about 45 minutes prior to tip-off, Travon Woodall makes certain not to move as the needle is jabbed into his, well, buttocks. It'll happen around 6:15 p.m. tonight before Pittsburgh's junior point guard takes the floor against South Florida.
"If I move," Pittsburgh's junior point guard laughs. "I have to do it again."
Woodall isn't 100 percent recovered from the abdominal/groin injury he suffered way back on Nov. 30 and likely won't be full-strength for the remainder of the season. However, his return and presence as the Panthers floor leader has keyed the team's turnaround.
"I'm nowhere near 100 percent," he said. "But with the needle, I don't feel any pain. The most pain is after the game when it wears off."
Since he's come back, Jamie Dixon's team has reeled off four of its past five -- including a road win against West Virginia and a home victory over a ranked Georgetown club - to move from 0-7 in Big East play to 4-7.
"One game at a time," said Woodall, who is honestly one of the best interviews I've done in a long time.
Woodall may not be completely healthy, but he couldn't take sitting and watching his teammates falter any longer. He tried it once, against Notre Dame in late-December, but he was completely ineffective and shut it down again for the next five games.
With Woodall in the lineup, the Panthers are 10-3. Without him, they are 5-6. And in two of those games - losses against Notre Dame and Louisville, he wasn't even close to 100 percent.
"Anyone who knows the game of basketball understands how important the point guard is to our team," Woodall said. "If you took Brad Wanamaker off our team last year, it wasn't have been nearly as good. Ashton (Gibbs) is a huge part of our team, but he isn't a true point guard. We needed a true point guard."
"The point guard is like the quarterback," he added. "I know the Giants wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without Eli (Manning)."
You've got to love a kid who compares himself (and he wasn't really comparing himself) to the Super Bowl MVP.
This was supposed to be The Year for Woodall. He has waited his turn for the past three years to take the starting point guard role. He worked out relentlessly with former Pittsburgh floor leader Lavance Fields in the offseason, often three times a day, so he'd be prepared for this opportunity. This is the same guy who accepted his role coming off the bench as a senior for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony's in favor of Tyshawn Taylor, Mike Rosario, Jio Fontain and Dominic Cheek.
"I've tried to play my role since I got here," Woodall said. "But this was finally my time."
However, then came the defensive slide against Duquesne in which he suffered the lower abdominal and groin injury. Woodall sat out the next six games and then tried to come back following a shocking home loss against Wagner.
"That was just me being frustrated," Woodall said. "I wasn't ready, but I just couldn't sit there and watch any more."
But the loss to Wagner was just the start of the team's troubles. Pittsburgh dropped its first seven league games and was written off by just about everyone for an NCAA tourney berth.
Then Woodall came back and everything changed. Next up is tonight's road contest against South Florida -- and a victory would inch the Panthers back into the hunt, especially if those on the NCAA Selection Committee understand the importance Woodall makes to this team.
"One at a time," Woodall repeated.