Life is a road riddled with unexpected twists and turns, but for redshirt sophomore guard Royce Woolridge, adaptation to those turns is key.
Whether moving cross-country from the prestigious basketball ranks of Kansas University, uprooting his foundation in Los Angeles for the likes of Phoenix, losing his father to a heart condition or changing positions for the good of the team, Woolridge has embraced the challenges and changes in life.
While those detours have led Woolridge to WSU, where he has earned a role as the team’s starting point guard averaging 7.7 points per game, the 22-year-old guard has always known that no matter where life’s journey takes him, he’ll always play basketball somewhere.
Coming from a legendary basketball lineage, Woolridge was destined to fall in love with the sport. From the time he could walk, little Royce was slamming down dunks – just on a smaller scale.
“I had a little hoop when I was two, and I used to pick up the ball and dunk it – I’d do that all day,” he joked. “Growing up, I was always around basketball…It’s just something I’ve always known and loved.”
His father, Orlando Woolridge, played 13 seasons in the NBA, averaging 16 points per game in that stretch. He even played alongside likely the greatest player to ever grace the court, Michael Jordan, averaging 23 points as Jordan’s teammate in 1984.
Along with Orlando, Woolridge’s godfather Negele Knight and great uncle Willis Reed both played 10 seasons in the NBA. Reed won two championships with the New York Knicks and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Toss around the names Woolridge or Reed in any basketball circle and you’re bound to conjure up memories of vicious dunks and championship seasons.
But Royce would rather make his own name playing the game he loves.
“It’s not necessarily following in their footsteps,” Woolridge said of his family. “It’d be cool to keep the legacy going – the Woolridge name. I’m a product of them so I want to be like them, but be my own player in a way.”
Despite countless hours spent around the sport, shooting hoops at practice while his dad coached the L.A. Sparks, following his NBA career, Woolridge said basketball didn’t click for him until eighth grade.
“I was terrible at basketball till like seventh or eighth grade, but I just liked playing,” he said. “I knew how to play, I just couldn’t put it together.
Once Woolridge “put it together,"he soared.
In high school, Woolridge led the Sunnyslope Vikings to consecutive state title runs, pushing his team to the championship his junior year.
That success landed Woolridge at Kansas University, home of the Jayhawks, one of the most lauded basketball universities in the country. After riding the bench most of his freshman season, Woolridge said Kansas wasn’t much of a fit for him.
“I just got in an argument with the coach and we didn’t see eye to eye on some things, it was mutual.”
After his breakup with the Jayhawks, WSU was the first university to call and Woolridge was happy to answer.
“I had been everywhere around the country, I had been to the East Coast, I had been to the South, but I’d never been to the Northwest,” he said. “I always wondered what it was like out here, so I took a visit.”
After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer requirements, Woolridge now not only starts, but also plays a position foreign to him. After playing as a shooting guard his whole career, hardwired to score like his favorite player, Kobe Bryant, Woolridge now distributes.
“It’s basically like two different mentalities. When you play the shooting guard, you’re mentality is to score; when you play the point, you’re mentality is to get other people to score.”
While the redshirt sophomore admits he’s still learning on the go, he has embraced the challenge in the same way as all the others, with fervor and determination.
“It takes a while to get used to, but I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable in my role and know exactly what I need to do to help the team.”
No stranger to adversity, Woolridge hopes his experiences with championship-caliber teams will carry over to WSU, saying he wants to help put the Cougars on the map.
“I want the Cougars to be a name, where people say, ‘Oh we gotta play Washington State, we don’t want to play them, that’s a good basketball school’,” Woolridge said. “I want Cougar basketball to be a big thing.”
The Cougars will need to rack up wins soon if they have any hope of reaching those expectations, starting with No.16 Oregon on Wednesday night.
“I’m excited. I want to go down there and make a statement,” Woolridge said.
Such is a fitting mentality for Woolridge. No challenge is too big for him – this is his road.