Calbert Cheaney still remembers the first time he met Mike Woodson.
Going into his junior year at IU in 1991, Cheaney played in multiple international tournaments during the summer, and his body felt the impact. He was worn down physically by the time the season came around, and he struggled early on.
At some point during that slump, Woodson and fellow IU men’s basketball great Scott May talked to Cheaney to help him through the tough period. Woodson, by then, was fresh off his playing career, before he began coaching. That moment stuck with Cheaney.
“We had a great conversation, and our relationship kind of bloomed from there,” Cheaney said in a Zoom media availability Thursday. “Him coaching in the pros, I always went out of my way, had an opportunity every time I saw him, we had a great conversation. Our relationship has always been great. He understands the game, he understands what it takes, he understands how to help players grow into the best players they can possibly be.”
It’s because of that fondness Cheaney has for Woodson that the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer is back in Bloomington.
Cheaney returned to the Hoosiers this offseason as director of player development. This is his second stint on an IU coaching staff — he served as director of operations in 2011-12 and added player development roles in 2012-13.
He held a similar position with the Pacers for the last three years, and he wasn’t actively looking at returning to the collegiate level. But the opportunity to work alongside Woodson — and to return to his alma mater — was alluring.
“Woody was the determining factor for me. I have so much respect for the man and what he’s been able to do,” Cheaney said. “He and his staff that he’s put together is really what brought me here. The fact that I’m able to be a part of that means a lot to me. I appreciate Woody for including me in his dream, so to speak.”
Although Cheaney did some player development in his first stint at IU, this role is different now that the NCAA allows more staffers to work with players on the court. So Cheaney sees two main responsibilities in his position: developing the student-athletes as basketball players and as men off the court.
The college game has changed, in some ways, since Cheaney last coached at this level in 2016 at Saint Louis. The transfer portal and NIL have altered collegiate athletics as a whole over the last several years. But for Cheaney, it’s just basketball.
“I think it’s a little bit different but at the end of the day, it’s still basketball. You’ve got to get (the players) in here, and you want to try and win. That’s the obvious thing you want to try and do. And I think we can win,” Cheaney said. “I got a chance to watch these guys play yesterday, and this team has a lot of potential. They can be better than last year’s team. But it’s up to them on how good they want to be. I look forward to helping them try to achieve that goal.”
Cheaney added that he sees some similarities between this Hoosiers team and the 2012-13 squad he worked with, which spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
He described that group as having a lot of good players who quickly bought into playing as team. That type of successful team requires talent, obviously, but also chemistry. Cheaney said this year’s team has the potential to have that same balance.
“They have some of the same abilities that that 2013 team had, but obviously, you’ve got to have the chemistry and you got to have the work ethic,” Cheaney said. “I always tell guys, your head and your heart determine how successful you’re going to be, not only on the basketball court, but in life. And that’s all I’m going to try and tell them. Just try to go out there and play your hearts out, do everything hard, and play together. And if you do those things, you’re going to be successful no matter what.”
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