BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 09, 2022 - the Indiana Hoosiers Men's Basketball team during the game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics

IU basketball’s roster situation suggests a healthy culture under Mike Woodson

Indiana entered the offseason knowing it would have some attrition via the transfer portal.  With 16 players signed when the season ended and just 13 scholarships available, something had to give prior to the 2022-23 season.

And it did.

Four from this past season — Khristian Lander, Michael Durr, Parker Stewart and Rob Phinisee joined the around 1,500 college basketball players who hit the transfer portal this spring.

All four were in the portal soon after the season, signaling decisions that didn’t require a lot of deep thought.  Were they forced out?  Again, something did have to give, but we’ll leave that for you to speculate.  But let’s just say that all four have found new teams that seem to provide better opportunities going forward.  Sometimes a change of scenery is good for everyone involved.

Within the remaining nine from last year’s team are several players who Indiana clearly wanted to came back.  And they all apparently are.

That’s saying something in this era of college basketball, when the portal provides a quick escape from a bad culture or just about anything else that doesn’t fit.  It wasn’t clear a year ago how well Mike Woodson was going to adapt to the college game, college players, and their inner circles.

With one season in the books, this much seems obvious — Woodson has built an environment that talented players want to be a part of.

And one thing that stands out — even when the portal provides a quick escape hatch — no one is backing down from competition.  Archie Miller would say that he didn’t want 13 scholarship players because not all 13 can play.  But Indiana under Woodson seems to have no problem finding 13 who welcome the competition.

Four players who chose to stay stand out in that regard.

Race Thompson could have gotten on with the next phase of his life.  He’ll turn 23 next month, he has a degree, and Thompson has already been in college for a five years at a school far from his home.  He will be pushed hard for playing time next season by up-and-comers Jordan Geronimo and Malik Reneau, and that’s the last thing he needs for his final season.  There were no doubt cleaner paths to playing 30-plus minutes again out there.

Jordan Geronimo is also far from home and he has no certainty when it comes to significant playing time despite a strong close to his sophomore season.  Ousting Thompson from the starting five won’t be easy, nor will holding off Reneau.  Geronimo could move his game out to the perimeter, but there he has Miller Kopp, Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway and a freshman in Kaleb Banks to deal with, among others.  Geronimo likely could have found a situation where he would start right away.

Tamar Bates didn’t see the floor as a true freshman nearly as much as you’d expect for a borderline 5-star prospect.  His playing time fell off during the season too, after a promising start.  Bates was also an expecting father during the season.  That he wants to come back likely means that he is comfortable with IU when it comes to his personal life.  That he is willing to accept the diminished role he had as a freshman suggests he doesn’t blame the staff for how it played out.  Bates is aided by the departure of Stewart, but he has no guarantees of taking that starting role with Galloway, and freshmen Jalen Hood-Schifino and C.J. Gunn in the picture.

Logan Duncomb could certainly see the floor a fair amount next season if Trayce Jackson-Davis stays in the NBA Draft.  Indiana will technically be without a center other than Duncomb if Jackson-Davis doesn’t return.  If Jackson-Davis does return, spot duty as a backup five might be the best Duncomb can hope for after playing just 20 minutes all of last season.  But Duncomb allowed the May 1 transfer portal deadline pass, meaning he would now have to sit out a year if he were to choose to move on.  So he’s effectively chosen that whatever happens with Jackson-Davis, he’s happy at IU.

Of course there’s also Jackson-Davis, who made the obvious choice to evaluate his NBA Draft prospects.  But unlike many who made that move, he didn’t make the simultaneous choice to put his name in the transfer portal.  All the talk a year ago was how Woodson was going to help Jackson-Davis develop so he can make the NBA.  There was development, but sitting here right now Jackson-Davis is still unlikely to be any better than a late second round draft choice.  So he’s effectively made the choice to continue to work with Woodson to further develop if he stays in college.

And then there’s Reneau, who like Bates is coming in as a true freshman right on that 4-star/5-star line.  He wants to play next season, and he’s good enough to play big minutes somewhere as a high major college freshman.  That he chose to come to IU, with Thompson, Geronimo, Jackson-Davis and Duncomb all in the picture when he committed, again speaks to a pretty healthy situation at IU, in this case being presented to recruiting targets.

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