Woodson’s message for students

Stay in school, stay focused, stay true to what you love

Looming larger than life while making his way from the back of the theatre, the 6’5” coach took to the small stage at UMKC and shared stories about his life, his career, his success and failures.

Throughout a Q&A and ongoing discussion led by UMKC senior Rashad Lartey at the Men of Color Campus Initiative, his theme remained the same: stay in school, stay focused and stay true to what you love.

Mel Tyler said that the definitions of friendship and leadership personified his long-time friend, Mike Woodson, coach of the New York Knicks, as he welcomed Woodson to UMKC.

Tyler, vice chancellor of student affairs and enrollment management, said Woodson gives support and assistance, serves as someone who guides others and is an example for others to follow.

Woodson’s answers to the audience of more than 100 confirmed what Tyler said.

“My greatest influencers were my parents, my whole family really,” said Woodson. “We were programmed to work, and I have worked since my father died when I was about 13 years-old.”

“During college, I needed back surgery as I was hoping to be drafted into the NBA,” said Woodson. “I had worked hard to get to this point. It was an eight-week recovery, and at the end my mom had one profound piece of advice for me.”

Woodson said his mother urged him to focus on his education, not athletics. She said she was not concerned if he ever played basketball again. “Finish college – no one could take your education away.”

“My strong discipline and dedication helped develop my leadership skills, and they were strengthened by coaches, especially Bobby Knight at Indiana University,” Woodson said. “When working with players, you wear a lot of hats and need to find the ‘right buttons’ to reach each player.

“Knight was a stickler for being on time, going to class and coming to practice. Today students have a hard time with this kind of discipline and criticism that’s designed to help them get better.”

According to Woodson, students need to realize that study plays a major role in life and criticism – constructive – aids in their growth.

“As coach for the Atlanta Hawks, I was working with a struggling team, but we made great progress,” said Woodson. “We had 53 wins in the year that I got fired. I still don’t know why I was fired, but I took the time to help me get better.”

He encouraged everyone to take such setbacks as opportunities to reflect – what I did right, what I need to improve upon – and prepare to move forward when the next opportunity comes your way.

“And, it will,” said Woodson. He said it gave him more time for his wife, two daughters and some golf.

His advice to all students is to get an education, go to class. He and his wife of 32-years are helping their daughters, who just graduated from Georgia Tech, figure out the jobs that are best suited for them.

“You have to steer your children in the right direction. And you have to heed the advice you give them – when you fail, you have to get up.

“Find what’s worthwhile – I believe we all have a purpose. Without education, jobs are tough to find; life is full of ups and downs.” Figure out your mistakes during down times and get back up, Woodson reiterated throughout the afternoon.

Woodson started a real estate business, and each year beginning in 1986, he would buy property in Bloomington, Ind. for college students. He hired a management company to manage the property and learned the business in the off-season.

Today, Woodson has 2,500 apartment units with 40 employees managing the company.

“I love basketball and real estate and find it fulfilling to help basketball players become the best they can be and put together plays that make us a winning team. And, I enjoy putting together deals in real estate. Helping others has always been important to me, and I’ve continued it throughout my life and my career.”

Woodson believes you can find your passion – where you have an opportunity to grow, to enjoy life and to help others.

“I am truly thankful for the life I have.”

Photo credit:  Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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