Willie Woodard remains important cog in No. 4 Shorter's success
By Jim O'Hara
ROME – Self-sacrifice is one of the major keys in building team chemistry and almost always leads to success.
As the Shorter University men's basketball team prepares for the rugged 2012 stretch of its season, the Hawks don't have to look far to see an example that concept.
All they have to do is to turn to senior Willie Woodard, who after being with the team for less than two years has helped the No. 4-ranked Hawks become a national threat. Woodard played the first semester of his senior year this season knowing his tenure with the Hawks would end on Dec. 3 when his 10 semesters of eligibility expired.
"Willie is a good person, someone you want to be around," Shorter head coach Chad Warner said of Woodard, who prepped at Upson-Lee High in Thomaston and played on the junior college level at Middle Georgia and Gordon before joining the Shorter program. "The first time we met he looked me in the eye and said he'd do what we asked of him."
Woodard became a key piece to Shorter's winning puzzle last year when the Hawks enjoyed a record-setting season and put up career numbers through Shorter's first nine games this season. He took to the court for the final time when Shorter defeated Southern States Athletic Conference West Division preseason favorite Mobile in Alabama.
"After that game," Warner said, "I brought Willie up before the team and told them that he exemplifies who we want to be."
Woodard's example to the Hawks, one that has been truly unselfish, has not gone unnoticed.
The 6-foot-5 forward contributed a consistent 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game off the bench last season as the Hawks reeled off 23 wins, the most since 1998.
Well aware that he would play in just nine games when the current season began, Woodard returned by taking his game to a higher level.
In Shorter's season opening win over Point University, Woodard exploded for a career-high 17 points. When the final second ticked off the clock in the win over Mobile, he was averaging eight points and three rebounds a game.
While he knows that he can no longer suit up for the Hawks, who try to improve on their 12-0 record when they host 17th-ranked Freed-Hardeman at the Winthrop-King Centre on Friday, the transition has been hard for Woodard.
"It's tough," said Woodard, who still practices with the team and lends his support from the bench. "It's been hard for me to sit there and watch. I want to play, but the rule said I had to play in the first semester. I still want to contribute to the team and cheer them on."
"He's really grown up," said Warner. "He's mostly had all A's and B's and will graduate with a degree in Sports Management.
"He's never been a problem. He's done what's been asked of him."
More importantly, Woodard found that Shorter has been the place where he has not only achieved his own goal of earning a college diploma – Woodard hopes to use his Sports Management degree to establish a youth program in his hometown – but has allowed him to find peace of mind.
"It's away from distractions and it's helped make me concentrate more," Woodard said of his time at Shorter. "I just like the atmosphere here. It's peaceful to me."