Mike Woodson’s lack of college coaching experience was the second thing he was asked about at his introductory press conference back in late March. His lack of experience with recruiting was the third question.
The 63 year-old Woodson didn’t win the press conference that day with any awe inspiring insights into how a man who had spent the better part of his last 40 years in the NBA was going to be successful at the college game. And to be sure, Woodson hasn’t won a game yet at Indiana.
But what he has done during his relatively brief stint back in Bloomington is put a lot of minds at ease.
Already Woodson has proven himself as a competent and efficient recruiter. From the high school ranks he brought in 5-star Tamar Bates in a recruitment that lasted just a matter of weeks, and he convinced signee Logan Duncomb and commit C.J. Gunn to remain with Indiana. In this brave new transfer portal world, Woodson has had more wins than losses, successfully landing Xavier Johnson, Michael Durr and Miller Kopp while losing Armaan Franklin and experiencing what can best be described as parting ways with Joey Brunk and Jerome Hunter.
And of course Woodson successfully re-recruited several members of the 2020-21 roster, including Trayce Jackson-Davis, who seemed to have a foot out of the door, and Khristian Lander, Race Thompson, and Jordan Geronimo, who all entered the transfer portal before returning.
Now comes the next phase of recruiting for Woodson, and things will intensify considerably.
Beginning this week a parade of high school players will arrive on campus for what will be a busy month of official and unofficial visits. Of note, top-100 class of 2022 targets Kaleb Banks (June 10), Kyle Filipowski (June 15), Justin Taylor (June 15), and Jalen Hood-Schifino (June 28) are all slated to be in Bloomington. Confirmed visitors in the class of 2023 include Jeremy Fears (June 9) and Cyr Malonga (June 10), with other visits in the works.
A major part of Woodson’s early success as a recruiter has stemmed from the value being placed on his NBA experience. A line we are hearing over and over is along the lines of “he knows what it takes to get there.” Because of that, Woodson will play a major role in these visits, perhaps more than might be expected of most head coaches.
On top of the in person visits, college coaches are now able to hit the road, with several days designated as live in-person evaluation periods over the next two months. June consists primarily of high school team activities as AAU goes on a hiatus, and then July will feature major shoe circuit events that coaches will be allowed to attend including the Nike EYBL Peach Jam and the Adidas Gauntlet.
While all of that is going on, Woodson will also get his first chance to start coaching his new team.
June 10 marks the beginning of summer workouts where the Indiana coaching staff will be on the floor with the players, and that is another activity Woodson expects to be heavily involved in. While it is not uncommon in the business to leave much of the summer schedule to the assistants and support staff, Woodson will be hands on.
“It’s not a manager’s job, it’s not a grad assistant’s job, it is me and my coaching staff’s job to develop, I’ve always felt that way, I’ve always done it that way,” Woodson told reporters recently. “I like being on the basketball floor and working with players. That’s just what I do. Somebody did that for me, and I turned out just fine as a basketball player. These guys are going to get a lot of hands on from Coach Woodson individually and from a team setting.”
With a pair of summer exhibition games coming on August 13 and 15 in the Bahamas against Serbian professional team BC Mega, Woodson will be under some pressure to get his house in order before putting his team on the floor in front of fans for the first time. And that’s a challenge he is looking forward to.
“I’m excited about getting the whole group together and putting a system in place on both ends of the floor, and then we’ll have individual workouts for each and every player and then you’ll see who grows and how quickly they grow,” Woodson said. “That’s what coaching and basketball to me, what it’s always been about.”
The quick trip to the Bahamas is a nifty maneuver by the program. While Indiana only plays two games while there, their participation in an international trip allows them to hold 10 additional practices. That sets up perfectly for a coach trying to overhaul a program while bringing several new players on board.
It will also allow Woodson more time to keep his word with Jackson-Davis, who he convinced to return with him for a year so he could help the All-American big man develop the still lacking and necessary skills he knows the NBA requires.
“When you look at the Jackson-Davis kid, I sold him on he’s got to get better, you know, from his right hand and being able to finish more willingly around the rim and he’s got to got develop a shot. When he picks and pops he’s got to feel about good making that shot,” Woodson said.
Similar thoughts have been developed for all 13 scholarship players as the staff has been watching film over the last couple months to come up with development plans for each of them.
“These are all individual things that we got to do with players, but at the end of the day, it becomes a team when everybody is clicking on all cylinders and we’re doing the things that are necessary to win on both ends of the floor,” Woodson.
Woodson’s tenure as head coach will work much the same way. Thus far he has been winning on all the individual parts, but winning, or losing, on the scoreboard is what Woodson will ultimately be evaluated on.
The life of a college basketball coach is much different than an NBA assistant. Woodson knows that, of course, and he has said the Indiana job is the only one he would have left the Knicks for.
He’s about to get his first taste of the grind he signed up for.
And Woodson is ready to jump in with both feet.
“It’s a lot of work that has to be done, man, and I’m just anxious to get to June 10th where we can actually start working out,” he said.
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