There aren’t many things that can make a trip to the dentist more enjoyable.
But Robert Woodard II received news early Monday morning that did just that. The Columbus High School junior arrived at his appointment as the newly named Gatorade Mississippi Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“I had just gotten out of the shower and (Columbus High boys basketball coach Gary Griffin) called me and told me, so I was pretty hyped,” Woodard said.
Woodard is the first Gatorade Mississippi Boys Basketball Player of the Year to be chosen from Columbus High. The award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence, high standards of academic achievement, and exemplary character on and off the court. The Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award will be announced later this month.
Woodard, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior guard, led Columbus to a 16-13 record and the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament this past season. Woodard averaged 25.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and three blocked shots per game. A first-team All-State selection and a two-time member of The Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen, he is a former member of the USA Basketball Men’s Under-16 National Team. He also was named USA TODAY’s ALL-USA Mississippi Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Woodard admitted he was thinking about the award this past weekend, but he said he didn’t know when it would be announced. He realizes there are other great players in the state who also were in the running, so he said it was the “last thing he expected” to learn Monday morning.
He feels the role he played on a young Columbus High team helped him grow as a player and as a leader. He believes the work he did on and off the court helped him provide the characteristics the Gatorade award represents.
“To completely change my role from last year to this year, I guess the transition caught their attention,” Woodard said. “The things I do off the court are more important. I try to be versatile and make great grades as ell as be a part of the community. I don’t want to only be a figure on the court. I want to be able to affect some people off the court as well.”
A member of the National Honor Society at Columbus High and a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council in Columbus, Woodard has volunteered locally on behalf of the United Way and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. WoodardI has maintained a weighted 4.11 grade-point average in the classroom. He will begin his senior year of high school this fall.
Becoming more of a leader
Griffin said Woodard is the ideal recipient of the award.
“If we are going by the overall total achievement of being a true student-athlete, when you look at excellence on and off the court when it comes to academics and leadership, we’re looking at a person who is dedicated to the athletic side and in the classroom,” Griffin said. “He is always able to manage his time and split it up and handle his business on the court as well.”
Griffin said Woodard’s accomplishments this season men even more because he had to take on a bigger leadership role after Columbus High lost 10 seniors from its Class 6A State championship team. While Woodard II earned MVP in the state title game against Starkville, he acknowledged he wasn’t as vocal of a leader or he didn’t try to set the tone as much on the court as he did this season. Griffin said that increased responsibility was challenging at times for Woodard, but he feels he accepted that role and shined in it.
“He could have folded and done what a lot of great players would have done and been more individualized,” Griffin said. “But he always was more of a team player, trying to uplift his teammates, trying to make them better and to get them to understand they were better than they were.”
The previous two Gatorade Mississippi Boys Basketball Players of the Year were Tyson Carter (2015-16, Starkville High) and Malik Newman (2014-15 and 2013-14, Callaway High).
As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Woodard will be able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program. Every Gatorade Player of the Year state winner receives a $1,000 grant to donate and will have the opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant by writing a brief essay explaining why their selected organization deserves additional support.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor