The (basketball) Odyssey of Rob Woodson

GVL / Robert Mathews
Rob Woodson

GVL / Robert Mathews Rob Woodson

Pete Barrows

Some years from now on a brisk autumn night in September, a fire flickers, throwing shadows on the breeze under the arch of the famed Cook Carillon clock-tower that stands guard over the world-renowned Grand Valley State University Allendale Campus. A figure, faint at first, emerges into the light as a crowd begins to gather.

A voice arises from the hopeful assemblage of students and faculty: “Oh tell us, muse, of the man of many roles, who wandered a full many ways far and wide after he had conquered GVSU, and saw the courts of many men. Tell us the tale of Rob Woodson.” The muse paces in silent contemplation as the anticipation builds, but the request is not obliged with a categorical “once upon a time.”

“And what young Rob Woodson nobly thought, he greatly dared,” the muse began with vigor. “Started from the bottom, now we here.” The rest of the yarn came to light as the muse continued to spin and the moon passed from behind the clouds above.

Rob Woodson touched down in Denmark on Monday to embark upon his first professional season with the BBK Vaerlose Basketball Klub, but it wasn’t always destined that Woodson would play even beyond high school.

The diminutive 5-foot-11, 185-pound point guard began his career at Wayne Memorial High School in Inkster, Mich., where as a senior he averaged 16 points, 5 assists and 2.5 steals as he led the Zebras to a 13-5 record. A captain all four years, Woodson was named to the All-Area First Team by the Westland Observer as a senior, although the accolades never manifested into an offer to take his game to the next level.

He brought his game with him anyways to GVSU, where he walked on to the varsity basketball team. Only instead of battling breaking waves sent by Poseiden, Calypso, lotus eaters or a cyclops, Woodson battled the bench as a third-stringer behind both Wes Trammell and starter Breland Hogan. Only allotted 27 minutes in 10 games, Woodson scored just two points his freshman campaign in 2009-2010 and made the difficult decision to redshirt the following season.

“Rob’s a unique guy in today’s day and age simply because he was a guy the defined himself by persevering and hanging in there,” said Ric Wesley, Woodson’s coach of five years at GVSU. “That’s not really the norm anymore. People are generally pretty quick to quit, jump ship, transfer, point fingers, but Rob did none of that.

“Instead Rob waited patiently for his opportunity, kept getting better and better, and when he got that opportunity, he was well-prepared, ready and made the most of it. To see how far he came – starting as a walk-on – was not only rewarding, but inspiring, and his story, his journey, is all a credit to him and who is as a player and a person.”

It took what must have felt like a decade of time, but while Woodson waited, he grew; his shot with every ball hoisted during long hours kept in the gym, his handle every time he picked up a ball, his fitness during the summer and his capacity to drive the lane to create plays for himself and his teammates every time he observed Hogan and Trammell take the ball to the rack.

Woodson still played only sparingly his sophomore season, but as a junior he averaged just under 20 minutes per game and was second on the team in both assists (51) and steals (35) as the direct backup to his mentor, Hogan. Woodson was tempted briefly with thoughts of putting in a transfer as the sirens had tempted Odysseus before him, but when Hogan graduated following the 2012-13 season, the path from the bench onto to the court finally cleared.

On Nov. 18, 2013 against Olivet, Woodson was announced as a starter for the first time in his collegiate career.

“Rob’s a great driver, a better teammate, gained confidence in his shot when defenders would press up, earned everything he got and was a joy to play with,” said former teammate Ryan Sabin, who was a freshman during Woodson’s redshirt sophomore season. “He’s been through a lot of ups and downs at GVSU, which should serve him well riding the roller coaster of overseas ball, but more importantly, Rob’s a goofball who always made people laugh and had a smile on his face, the ultimate chemistry guy in the locker room and you won’t find anybody that won’t instantly gravitate to him.

“We’ll be following him closely out in Denmark, and we expect great things from him.”

In his fifth and final season at GVSU, Woodson put his extra year of eligibility, his vast talents, as well as his personal and professional maturation on display as he led the Lakers in virtually every conceivable facet. Woodson started all 27 games and in 30.8 minutes a night, averaged a team-high 4.3 assists to go along with 13.1 points and 3.5 rebounds. His 2.6 assist/turnover ratio was the best in the GLIAC among players with at least 100 assists, while his steal count ranked third in the conference.

Woodson was named to the All-GLIAC Second Team for his efforts, but as the only player on the Laker roster with at least three years of varsity experience, where Woodson truly made his impact felt on the the 19-8 squad was as its captain.

“The whole experience has been a roller coaster ride, but to go back and change it? No way,” Woodson said of his time at GVSU. “I think the route I took helped me in my career in that it kept my fire and hunger going, and just getting the chance to have a starting spot was a great accomplish for myself – something I always wanted at Grand Valley.

“My senior year, I developed into a leader, a guy my coaches and teammates could depend on day in and day out, and I’m most proud of that. Who would have ever thought I wound end up on the All-GLIAC team? And now that I’m in Denmark, I hope to be able to do it again. I’ve only been overseas now for only a couple days, but I am loving the experience so far and am looking forward to a great season here.”

The ending to Woodson’s epic has not been written yet, and even after five years at GVSU, he can’t help but to feel that his expedition through basketball has only just begun. From bench-warmer to redshirt to backup to starting point guard and captain, Woodson evolved with his role, patiently biding his time as he created opportunities for himself that hadn’t existed previously.

Woodson is not the first GVSU student athlete to take their talents abroad; former quarterback Kyle McMahon played a season in Poland, women’s basketball enforcer Alex Stelfox played in Germany and men’s basketball alum, from Callistus Eziukwu to Nick Freer to Jason Jamerson to Jason Boucher to Hogan and even Tyrone Lee, Woodson’s former roommate, have all played overseas.

Smart money says that Woodson won’t be the last either, as GVSU continues to grow as both a university and an NCAA Division II athletic powerhouse, although he may continue to be the most least likely candidate to have made it up the ranks for some time: A sub-6-foot walk-on that overcame every obstacle in his way, who dared to dream, dared to journey and did it all with a laugh and a grin.

“You miss people and places, get homesick and it does feel good to be back home at GVSU – and I told Rob this when he spoke after he landed in Denmrark – but you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re blessed to have the opportunity to travel, make new relationships, network and to continue to play ball, to keep doing something you love,” Tyrone Lee, who averaged 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game while helping to lead the Australian based NW Tasmania Thunder into the playoffs last season for the first time in years and still talks with Woodson every day, said.

“The number one thing is staying humble, which won’t be a problem for Rob, and more than anything, it’s about being liked rather than how good you are. You can drop 30 points a game, but if your teammates, your coaches, your fans and other people in the league don’t like and respect you, you’ll be heading home real quick. Everybody loves Rob.”