I am not going to lie to you, my knee-jerk reaction when I heard the news of Indiana’s hiring of Mike Woodson to be its head basketball coach could best be described as underwhelmed. Like so many other Hoosier fans I was hoping Brad Stevens would come home to coach the team he grew up rooting for. In my imagination, Brad Stevens comes to Indiana and leads us to our sixth NCAA Championship. It could have been like a screenplay for a sequel to Hoosiers! Hoosiers II: A Return to Glory!
If that was not to be, and it wasn’t, I was holding out hope that some big-name coach with a championship pedigree was ready for a new challenge, like leading a once blue blood program back to its former glory. Imagine that with me just for a moment. Imagine if a Tony Bennet or a Billy Donovan had decided that getting Indiana University back on top of the college basketball mountain was the best way to cement their legacy as one of the game’s greatest coaches. What if one of college basketball’s alpha males decided that he wasn’t afraid of facing the same fate as Archie Miller? That coaching at Indiana was worth the risk?
Think of all that Indiana has to offer: more than ample financial resources, a beautiful campus, a state-of-the-art practice facility, a national brand, a championship tradition, as passionate of a fan base as you will find in college basketball, and an athletic director in Scott Dolson that is 100% committed to seeing Indiana competing for Big Ten and national championships. Those are some pretty impressive resources. Not many programs across the country can offer all of that.
When the coaching search was going on the national media wanted us to believe that Indiana was no longer an elite coaching gig. They filled the internet with anti-Indiana rhetoric which they knew would drive traffic to their websites, blogs, and shows. Interestingly enough, their own preoccupation with the coaching search kind of proved their own theory wrong. Indiana’s brand is still alive and going strong. Have they had the recent success that college basketball fans, including those within the state of Indiana, expect? No, they clearly haven’t. Was Indiana Basketball dead, like they wanted us to believe? Not by a long shot.
So, fast forward to the day the Woodson hire was announced. Was it what I was hoping for? Was it what I was expecting? I would be lying if I said it was either one. I was, as I said earlier, underwhelmed. It certainly wasn’t the big splash I was imagining in my candy-striped, banner-laden imagination.
I did however quickly come to the conclusion that if Indiana didn’t get a big-name college coaching superstar, I was glad that Scott Dolson at least had the common sense and decency to hire an Indiana guy. That meant something to me. An Indiana guy, like Mike Woodson, would understand what he was getting into. The pressure and the expectations that came along with being the head coach at Indiana University would not be a shock to them. The long shadow cast by a legendary coach like Bob Knight wouldn’t seem quite as daunting to a guy who had played for him.
In fact, I theorize that an Indiana guy will not only not find Coach Knight’s legacy intimidating, but rather inspiring. Mike Woodson isn’t at Indiana just for Mike Woodson’s sake. He has nothing to prove to the basketball world. He has coached at the highest level of basketball in the world for years. Mike Woodson is at Indiana, I believe, as much to build upon Coach Knight’s legacy as he is his own. Woody loves Coach Knight and he loves Indiana University. Coach Knight gave him a chance to play for a basketball program that was as good as it got in college basketball at the time Woodson was recruited. And Woodson didn’t waste his chance, like so many players seem to do. He parlayed it into a good NBA playing career, and an arguably better NBA coaching career.
Now, Mike Woodson is back at his alma mater, and ready to work hard to get Indiana back to the kind of program it was when Coach Knight recruited him. And so far, Woodson and staff seem to be hitting all the right buttons. They were able to re-recruit many of the important pieces from last year’s team, with the exceptions of Armaan Franklin and Jerome Hunter. They were also able to retain the commitment of incoming big man, Logan Duncomb, and add the unexpected commitment of a dynamite freshman, Tamar ‘Scoop’ Bates.
On top of all that, Woodson and crew were able to utilize the NCAA transfer portal as well as any program in the Big Ten and add three terrific pieces to the roster: athletic and aggressive point guard Xavier Johnson from Pitt, sharp-shooting forward Miller Kopp from Northwestern, and seven-footer Michael Durr from South Florida. All three fill glaring holes on the Hoosier roster, and all three have the chance to make Indiana a lot better in 2021-22.
If I were to grade Coach Woodson’s performance as Indiana’s head coach thus far, he would get a solid ‘B+’. There is not much he could have done better, with the exception of maybe retaining Armaan Franklin. If he can add another high-profile recruit or two to the frontcourt for the 2022 recruiting class, in addition to already committed Indianapolis native CJ Gunn, my grade would likely move up to an ‘A’. That remains to be seen.
If Indiana can manage to land highly recruited 6-foot-11 four-star recruit, Kyle Filipowski, who seemingly everyone is after, it would be a home run for the Hoosiers. Cross your fingers while we wait on that announcement. If IU doesn’t land Filipowski, they just need to land some athletic guys with length that can shoot the ball. Players that fit the way Woodson wants the Hoosiers to play.
All in all, Indiana fans have a lot to be excited about. The roster is looking better. There is a positive vibe coming out of the recruit’s camps about the staff and program, and Hoosier nation is feeling good about having one of their native sons at the helm. All indications are that the Indiana program is headed in the right direction. Let’s pray that this coaching change proves to be the last one until Coach Woodson is ready to hang up his whistle and hand off a healthy Hoosier program to his heir apparent and Hoosier fan favorite, assistant coach Dane Fife.