But can he recruit?
That was the question when Indiana hired Mike Woodson 28 months ago.
And it seemed to at least be a reasonable thought. After all, the man spent his entire adult life in the NBA. What did he know about college basketball recruiting?
Woodson heard variations of that question on repeat throughout the first year of his tenure. But they’ve stopped — and with good reason.
As it turns it, with the transfer portal now a major offseason storyline, players monetizing their name, image and likeness, and agents now central to it all, college basketball recruiting barely resembles what we knew of it five years ago. Then transfers were relatively rare, and agents and money, while around, were hidden behind the walls and frowned upon.
Even the most veteran college coaches have had to adapt on the fly, which in many ways has leveled the playing field for Woodson. The sea change really took hold right around the same time he took the reigns at IU. Was it a stroke of luck for IU and AD Scott Dolson? Maybe, but the writing was on the wall in March of 2021. So Dolson deserves plenty of credit for a hire many national talking heads ridiculed at the time.
There’s a starkly different reality in college basketball, and the 65-year-old Woodson appears to be in his sweet spot in this new era of recruiting. And that’s at least in part probably because college basketball roster construction today has a lot of parallels to what goes on in the NBA.
Can he recruit? The results say resoundingly, yes.
For the second year in a row, IU basketball has pulled together a national top-12 group of newcomers to the roster, combining transfer portal players and high school recruits. In this era, that’s really the only measure that matters when it comes to grading the impact of newcomers on an upcoming season.
Indiana ranks No. 9 nationally in aggregate new talent in 2023 according to 247Sports, and they ranked No. 12 a year ago despite not bringing in any transfers. The current No. 9 rankings aggregates Indiana’s No. 14 transfer class and No. 17 high school class. As we highlighted earlier in the week, the portal is still open for graduate transfers, and IU still has a roster opening. So we may not be done yet.
Coming in IU has three high school players — Mackenzie Mgbako (national No. 8 per the 247 Sports Composite), Gabe Cupps (No. 92) and Jakai Newton (No. 114), and three transfers — Kel’el Ware (No. 2 overall), Payton Sparks and Anthony Walker.
For 2023, IU is second in the Big Ten in the overall rankings, behind only Michigan State. In 2022 they were fourth behind Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan.
Of course incoming talent is not the only variable that matters in the transfer era. Teams are obviously also losing players to the portal each year as well, including the Hoosiers.
But in general, Woodson and IU are doing very well in that regard also. When you look at who they’ve lost to the portal over the last two offseasons, you don’t see the top players on the Indiana roster leaving. Instead, the trend has been for the top talent to return or go to the NBA.
The Woodson era is still in its relatively early days, but Indiana appears to be transforming into a program where top talent wants to come, and where it thrives. And that tends to have a compounding effect. And answer a lot of questions.
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