By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
Mike Fox saw the media reports and reached out.
It was as a student in Fox’s fourth-grade class at New Albany Elementary School in the Wyalusing Valley School District that Trevor Woodruff first revealed his future plans – to become a college basketball coach.
So, when Fox saw the news last week that Woodruff had been named as the latest women’s basketball coach at Division I Bucknell University in Lewisburg, he tracked down his former student.
“He e-mailed me and said, ‘do you remember telling me that?’” Woodruff said in an interview with NEPABasketball.com.
In the more than three decades since, Woodruff has taken the steady steps to be in position to not only coach at the college level, but to take over a championship program at the highest level.
Woodruff played high school basketball at Wyalusing and college basketball at Misericordia University. That put him on a path to coaching on the high school level at Delaware Valley, the junior college level at Lackawanna College in Scranton, then the four-year college level at his alma mater, Misericordia.
A move to the University of Scranton and a switch from men’s to women’s basketball four years ago put Woodruff in position to jump from Division III to Division I. His Lady Royals teams made four straight trips to at least to Sweet 16 of the Division III national tournament and went to the Final Four this year.
Although it may have caught a former teacher’s attention, getting to the Division I level, was not the point of the job change, according to Woodruff.
It certainly wasn’t the point back in fourth grade when college basketball meant teams like Georgetown and Syracuse because that is who a boy could follow on TV. The idea of different divisions was still foreign.
“I didn’t differentiate levels,” Woodruff said. “At this point, level doesn’t really play into it a whole lot. I had not been chasing Division I, so to speak.
“In every job I’ve ever taken, from my perspective, it was about, ‘is this a school that I fit personally, that I believe in, that I can take sell and where we can win?’ Every job I’ve taken, that’s kind of been my reasoning behind it.”
Early in his career, that meant what fit Trevor Woodruff. Now, it means what fits the Woodruff family.
Coaching is a career that is notorious for its long hours, but there is some flexibility to those hours and Woodruff said he wants to be in a place where his boys – 8-year-old Bryce and soon-to-be, 3-year-old Casey – can grow up around the office.
The move from Misericordia to Scranton brought the Woodruffs closer to the home they had established in Dunmore. Bucknell is close enough that even with a relocation, they can remain relatively near to extended family.
When Woodruff began to look closer at a job that sounded interesting to him, he learned that the Bucknell women’s program, coming off two Patriot League titles in the last three seasons, was as he pictured.
“The process really just solidified what I thought ahead of time in that it’s a first-class operation from top to bottom,” Woodruff said. “It’s a unique blend of academics and athletics. Very few places in the country can combine both of those things at the level Bucknell does.
“ … When you combine those two things and the fact that it’s essentially in the backyard of where I grew up and it allows our families – both mine and my wife’s – to stay involved in what we’re doing, it really was a no-brainer in terms of trying to get the job and then ultimately taking it.”
Bucknell, in turn, learned about the man whose teams won 113 games in four years at Scranton and was similarly impressed. It chose a coach who has been able to rise through the modern game with some old-school coaching philosophies.
“I’m a fan of coaches,” Woodruff said. “I don’t necessarily have a favorite college basketball team, but I really like Tom Izzo. Tom Izzo and Tony Bennett are two guys I follow closely and try to mimic a lot of things that they do, specifically at the defensive end.”
Tony Bennett, who coached the Virginia men to this season’s Division I title, is the son of another college basketball coach who made an in-state transition from small to major college basketball behind a strong defensive commitment.
Dick Bennett went from Wisconsin-Stevens Point to taking the University of Wisconsin to the Final Four.
“We play a pack-line defense that (Tony Bennett) is famous for,” Woodruff said. “His father is actually kind of, not the inventor, but he made it famous.”
Using the pack-line defensive philosophies, Woodruff’s teams have been consistently tough to score on, particularly on the inside.
Although Izzo is also known for his team’s defensive commitment, Woodruff said his “stealing” as a coach includes some of Izzo’s offensive approach.
“I think we play a bit of an old-school style from what people say is normal basketball now because we don’t necessarily want to go down and shoot fast just to say that we play fast,” he said. “That’s kind of the new trend in basketball; position-less basketball where you run down and take the first quick shot you can.
“That’s not really how we play.”
Just as the Bucknell administration and its new coach found what seems to be a natural fit, Woodruff is expecting more of the same as his players get to know him.
“One of the fortunate things is a roster which fits the style of play that I like,” Woodruff said. “They’ve played a somewhat similar style – traditional bigs, step your 4 out and shoot, space your guards; very similar things to what we’ve done. I think the learning curve for the players is going to be a quick one.
“It’s a good fit as far as that goes.”
Because of that, Woodruff said he does not initially plan to make many changes in style. He’ll put together a staff of assistants, hear their opinions and prepare to move forward.
“The basis of what we do is the same foundation we had at Scranton,” he said. “It’s the same foundation we had at Misericordia. It’s been a recipe that works, so we’ll continue to do that.”
Scranton won the Landmark Conference women’s title all four seasons that Woodruff was there. Across seasons at Delaware Valley and Lackawanna, a dozen years at Misericordia and four at Scranton, Woodruff won 296 games, 10 national tournament berths, 8 conference Coach of the Year awards and 7 conference titles.
Bucknell went 102-30 over the past four seasons and 151-72 in seven years under Aaron Roussell, who left the school to become head coach at the University of Richmond. The Bison were 64-8 in the Patriot League in the last four seasons.
The Bison are coming off a school-record 28 wins in a season that ended with a 70-67 loss to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bucknell director of athletics and recreation Jermaine Truax announced Woodruff’s hiring April 25.
“The Bison women’s basketball program is currently performing at a championship level, as evidenced by our two Patriot League titles in the last three years, so it was imperative for us to identify an individual with a similar pedigree of success,” Truax said, according to a story on the Bucknell website. “Trevor certainly fits that billing, with four league titles and four deep runs in the NCAA Division III Tournament during his four years at Scranton. Beyond the wins and losses, Trevor has proven to be an outstanding mentor to his student-athletes, and I am excited for him to jump right in, get to know his players, and work to build upon the excitement that our women’s basketball team has created on campus and in our community.”
Leaving Scranton was difficult, Woodruff said, not because of the success the team had built and appears in position to continue, but because of the relationships developed in doing so.
“I would like to just thank the Scranton community at large,” Woodruff said. “They have been overwhelmingly positive. The experience for my family and I was terrific. We’re really proud of what we accomplished.
“We feel like we built on an already strong legacy; that it’s a better place than when we found it. That’s always the goal and we will always root for the Lady Royals and wish them nothing but the best.”
MORE ON WOODRUFF: The original story on Woodruff’s move from Scranton to Bucknell included quotes from Scranton athletic director Dave Martin, Woodruff’s former college coach. http://nepabasketball.com/2018-19/articles/WoodruffBucknellWomensCoach