Mike Woodson was tempted by the dark side.
The now Indiana head basketball coach has said often IU was the only place he wanted to go play college basketball, but at one point in his high school journey there was a visit up north scheduled.
With his Hoosiers set to face Purdue on Saturday for the third time during his coaching tenure in Bloomington, Woodson recalled his momentary lapse in judgment.
“I was recruited by Purdue and had a visit set to go to Purdue,” Woodson said on Thursday. “I canceled it at the last minute based on my conversation with Coach Knight. I had already committed. Hadn’t been anywhere, so I was just going to take the trip.”
Woodson has said his coach at Broad Ripple H.S., Bill Smith, reminded him of Knight. And Woodson’s loyalties to Knight went back to camp in high school.
“I ended up winning a three-on-three contest at Coach Knight’s camp with two other kids and Coach gave me a tee shirt and told me he would follow me my senior year in high school and that’s all I needed to hear,” Woodson said when he was hired by IU. “And I had a great senior year and he came knocking and I made a decision to come here and play basketball.”
Even without the connections Woodson had, it was a challenge for Purdue or anyone else at the time to compete with what Knight had going. In the two years before Woodson arrived, IU compiled a 63-1 record with back-to-back perfect seasons in the Big Ten and a 1976 national title.
“It (IU) was so powerful at that time and every year you knew Indiana was in position to do something special. That’s what I wanted to be a part of,” Woodson said.
Woodson joined Butch Carter, Glen Grunwald, Derek Holcomb, Mike Miday, and Bill Cunningham to form what was regarded as the top recruiting class in the country. Grunwald, a Parade All-American, was regarded as the star of that class, but it was Woodson who emerged. He started his second game at IU and every game thereafter when he was healthy.
Indiana and Purdue had some memorable meetings during Woodson’s four years in Bloomington. The Boilermakers won the first three, and then IU won four of five including the 1979 NIT championship game. Purdue got the last laugh, winning the final two matchups including a 1980 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game that ended Woodson’s college career.
That final loss to the Boilermakers was particularly hard on Woodson, who had returned midseason from back surgery and led IU to a Big Ten title. The Final Four was in his hometown of Indianapolis that year, with the championship game falling on his birthday.
But it wasn’t to be.
“I didn’t have much left in the tank. Physically I knew I was running on fumes,” he said recently of the loss. “If I could have something back (from my college career) it would be that game.
“To go out that way is tough. It’s Purdue.”
The rivalry game was a big deal then, and of course it still is today.
“It’s the biggest game in the state of Indiana,” Woodson said Thursday. “The rivalry is just what it is, man. I mean, they have their fan base, and we have our fan base. The games have been pretty competitive. I know last year both games were very, very competitive games. I can’t help but think Saturday’s going to be a competitive game, as well, when we go up to Purdue.”
The game up at Purdue may indeed end up being competitive when IU travels there in March.
But that’s still a trip he doesn’t regret cancelling when he was in high school. Unlike the rivalry, Woodson’s recruitment was never competitive.
“Didn’t make the trip,” Woodson said. “Glad I didn’t ’cause Indiana is home for me, where I always wanted to go.”
See also: Woodson wasn’t the only coach in tomorrow’s meeting who wanted to go to IU. Purdue’s Matt Painter says he would have been a Hoosier if given the chance:
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”