By Cam Huffman
Bryce Woodliff had a goal to play Division I college basketball. His coach, it just so happened, had a connection to make that possible.
Woodrow Wilson High School graduate Jason Slay, the director of basketball operations at Georgia Southern University, knew Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice well. Justice first coached Slay when he and Justice’s daughter, Jill, played together on a YMCA all-star team. He later coached him again at Park Middle School.
Slay had shown interest in Woodliff when he was an assistant coach at West Virginia State, but Woodliff, and Justice, believed the Spartan point guard was capable of playing at a higher level. So when Slay landed the job at Georgia Southern in April, Justice continued to stay in touch with his former player.
On Wednesday, it all came together as Woodliff officially signed on the dotted line to accept an offer as an invited walk-on with the Eagles.
“It feels pretty good,” said Woodliff, who averaged 15 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals per game as a senior. “It’s a big change. Going all the way to Georgia is hard, but I think I can make it and I’m willing to put in the work.”
His major goal, from the time he first steps onto the campus, is to turn the walk-on opportunity into a scholarship.
“I’m pretty sure once I get my work done and put my best toward everything, I’ll get that scholarship,” said Woodliff, who also considered an offer to play at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. “That’s what I’m working for. Hopefully, I can get a full ride.”
Justice believes Woodliff’s more than capable of doing just that.
“I think Bryce will do great,” said the Spartan coach, who led the boys to a 20-5 record last season in his first year leading the charge. “He’s a very talented point guard. You almost have to be born with it. It’s a gift to be unselfish, be a leader, see the floor and see things that all of us aren’t able to see. You also have to be a terrific ball handler and a great shooter, and he’s all of that.
“These schools are extremely stingy about who they want to come into their program. Jason really liked Bryce and we kept talking. Now, low and behold, look what we’ve got. He wanted to play Division I basketball, and here’s his chance.”
Woodliff remembers going on trips to Atlanta as a kid, so he’s familiar with the Peach State. But he won’t see the Georgia State campus in Statesboro, Ga., for the first time until he arrives on campus. That could be a big adjustment, but it’s one that Woodliff’s lone season at Greenbrier East may make easier.
“It was pretty hard getting up here and not knowing anybody,” said Woodliff, who played his high school basketball at a school in Roanoke, Va., before moving to Greenbrier County. “All eyes were on me when I walked through the door. Once I got in with everybody, I made a lot of new friends. It was a good experience.
“I learned how to meet new people. Going to Georgia, I’ll meet a lot of new people, and I’ll know how to interact.”
Justice believes Georgia Southern — which went 14-19 last year as a member of the Southern Conference, but brought in a new head coach in former College of Charleston assistant Mark Byington at the season’s end — is just another step on what he believes will be a memorable journey for Woodliff.
“He’s got such a good head on his shoulders,” said the Greenbrier East coach. “He communicates well with others. People gravitate to him and love him, and he’s going to do some really special things in life, beyond his basketball.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.