With players now able to capitalize on their name, image and likeness (NIL), and transfer without having to sit out a year, it is a whole new day in college basketball.
The sea changes in the college game line up with a new regime leading the IU basketball program, and it is easy to see how that new staff should be able to pounce on the opportunities in the sport.
The main question hanging over new head coach Mike Woodson after he spent 40 years in the NBA was a logical one. Can he recruit? Woodson’s response the first time he was publicly asked the question seemed like spin at his introductory press conference in late March.
“It wouldn’t be my first time recruiting, first time recruiting in college,” Woodson said. “We recruit all the time in the NBA. The one year I coached the Atlanta Hawks when I was given that job, I had the youngest team in the history of the game and they were all recruits from the college game where you had to go out and do background checks, medical checks, all kind of things in terms of bringing a player in that you think that can help build your program.”
Even just in the span of six months, that response takes on an entirely new meaning. Off the court, the college game looks more like the NBA than ever, and that is a world where Woodson is well positioned to thrive.
When Woodson uttered those words we were just seeing the beginning of the NCAA’s elimination of the requirement that transfers sit out a season. The result was more than 1,700 players in the transfer portal, and dozens of transfers in the Big Ten, including IU who will have four new players who have suited up for other college programs.
“I think coach Woodson fell into college basketball at the right time,” assistant coach Kenya Hunter told A.J. Guyton on the House of Hoosier podcast this week. “It’s like the NBA, you are just picking guys from different teams that you really like.”
Something else that has an NBA feel is the concept of players making money. The passage of NIL rules over the summer doesn’t mean college players now earn a paycheck, but it does introduce an entirely new element to the sport. Both the Indiana program and Woodson appear to be in a good position to succeed in this brave new NIL world.
Despite a recent lack of on-the-court success, the IU basketball program has one of the game’s most iconic brands, and it has routinely been listed by Forbes as one of the most valuable programs in terms of revenue and profits. Now that intangible brand asset can be accessed by the players to generate income, and it can be leveraged by the coaches as a recruiting tool.
“The NIL is definitely going to help,” Hunter told Guyton. “I think Indiana is doing a great job of being at the forefront of everything that we can do to help our student athletes, and by that happening it puts us in a position as recruiting coaches to go out and recruit the best players who fit our system.”
The introduction of players making money to college locker rooms won’t come without complications. For example, there will be a great deal of discrepancy in what each player makes. It is another aspect of the game that is in Woodson’s wheelhouse from his NBA experience. By and large significant NIL deals will be merit-based, influenced by both on-the-court performance, and off-the-court marketability.
While you have likely already seen IU players create t-shirts or make one-off appearances, bigger deals are happening. Most notably, forward Trayce Jackson-Davis signed a deal to be a brand ambassador for Merchants Bank. Businesses know very well how to market themselves, and they know the value of the IU basketball brand. Now those two variables are connected in a way that should be quite powerful for the program.
While the Indiana staff cannot help broker NIL deals for players, they can talk to recruits about how their players are benefitting. Already those conversations are well underway.
“Obviously with the NIL it influences guys (recruits) as far as some of the things that we are capable of putting in front of them from previous guys that have done things,” Hunter said. “Basically that’s all we can say with the NIL is things that are happening to our players right now. There are no promises of anything, but this is what’s happening with our guys right now.”
While much has changed with the college game in the last year, one thing remains the same — you have to assemble a cohesive team, not just a group of individuals. Without on-the-court success, NIL opportunities will dwindle, and programs will become less appealing to potential transfers.
Now it will be more important than ever to decipher why a player is transferring, why they are interested in your program, and how they will be influenced by outside pressures.
“It is not just about collecting talent,” Hunter said. “It is about collecting the right guys who we feel like we can build a relationship and who we feel like can play well for coach Woodson. Just because you’re talented doesn’t mean you are going to fit in right. It is still about us doing our homework as assistant coaches and getting to know the players, the parents, the people around them to see if they will be a great fit.”
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