JOHNSON CITY (Nov. 3, 2012) – In a ceremony early Saturday morning, the ETSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics officially named the Buccaneers’ men’s basketball locker room in honor of legendary player Tommy Woods.
ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dave Mullins, head coach Murry Bartow, current ETSU players and staff, as well as many of Woods’ teammates, friends and family were on hand for the special occasion.
For more on Woods and his importance to the ETSU athletics program, please see the following biography which will be included in today’s game program. Woods will be honored prior to the tip of today’s exhibition game with Carson-Newman at 4 p.m.
Tommy Woods was one of the greatest basketball players to ever wear the blue and gold of ETSU – particularly as a defender and rebounder. But there was much more to his story.
Woods, who became the program’s first African-American player in 1963, could have simply let the color of his skin define his career as a Buccaneer. Instead, he set about rewriting the basketball record books at ETSU and creating a legacy that would be equally balanced by his outstanding accomplishments on the hardwood, his character in the face of hate and bigotry, his determination to earn a college degree, and his accomplishments in the professional world once he left the hills of Northeast Tennessee.
Playing for ETSU’s legendary men’s basketball coach Madison Brooks from 1963-67, Woods – like so many others in his generation – was faced with the challenge of changing culture and championing the process of integration, while also excelling at the game he loved. And though he was faced with opposition in those early years at ETSU and throughout the South as he traveled with his teammates, the subsequent four years witnessed Woods overcome those obstacles to become a team captain and a fan favorite, as well as a source of hope and pride for those who followed the Buccaneers’ program.
According to Leroy Fisher, one of Woods’ teammates, it was his “supreme dignity coupled with sincere humility which combined to make Tommy Woods the right man at the right time in ETSU’s history.”
Indeed, Woods’ popularity grew to the point that when the senior captain was introduced for his final home game in Feb. of 1967, Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer Jimmy Smyth described the standing ovation as the loudest and longest he had ever personally witnessed. And in fact, as Woods remembers it, some of those that booed him as a freshman in 1963 were the same fans leading the applause when he played that final game inside Brooks Gym.
Woods finished his career at ETSU with the record for most rebounds all-time (1,034) and rebounds per game (16.2 rpg). In fact, his rebounds per game average of 16.2 is a full 4.3 rebounds better than any other ETSU player since that time, and he also set the single-game record with a remarkable 38 rebounds against Middle Tennessee State University during the 1964-65 season. All of those marks still stand today.
Even more impressive, Woods posted those career and single-game records despite playing just three seasons of varsity basketball, because at that time freshmen athletes could not play on the varsity squad. His outstanding leaping ability and his shot-blocking skills are also remembered fondly by those that watched him play.
While his professional playing career with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA came to a premature end due to injury, Woods went on to work for over 30 years as a probation officer for troubled youth in the city of Louisville, Ky., and is currently a special assistant to Louisville’s office of the mayor. He also continued to play basketball recreationally until the age of 66.
Today, the ETSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will honor Tommy Woods by naming the men’s basketball locker room in his honor prior to the Buccaneers’ exhibition game with Carson-Newman. As players from both teams – and of all races – play on the court today, they will do so in honor of the efforts made by those that came before them.
Those like Tommy Woods.