Indiana men’s basketball is nearly back.
The Hoosiers will take the court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday for their first of two exhibition games ahead of the 2023-24 season. IU head coach Mike Woodson met with the media over Zoom on Friday to discuss the upcoming game and his team at large near the end of preseason practice.
Here are a few key points that came up in the media session.
Exhibition games approaching
Sunday’s matchup with UIndy will be Indiana’s first opportunity to face a different opponent this season, as opposed to intrasquad scrimmages.
This, as always, can be an early barometer of how some things are fitting together. The Hoosiers should dominate the game — if they don’t, there will be serious problems to address. But it’ll provide Woodson and the coaching staff with different data points, from facing another team, than what they’ve already seen.
And with so many new pieces on this year’s team, especially compared to last year’s squad, Woodson said that’s important.
“We got together this summer, the process began, and it’s been a lot of work up until this point where these guys have pretty much beat up on each other,” Woodson said. “I’m kind of anxious to see where we are when we tip it up on Sunday to kind of give me some indication of things that we need to do to get better and continue to grow. I can’t wait until Sunday to see where we are.”
Woodson added that IU played some scrimmages this past week, and the last one may have been the best the team’s played so far.
Freshmen impressing early
When Woodson thought about some of his team’s most consistently impressive players during preseason, some younger players came to mind.
He led with senior guard Trey Galloway, saying he was the most consistent player starting out fall practice. But he later lauded two freshman, forward Mackenzie Mgbako and guard Gabe Cupps. Mgbako, who isn’t facing a suspension after his recent arrest, is expected to start this season, and Woodson said he’s looked solid.
Cupps could be an important bench piece for IU, with some questions at guard depth entering the season. Behind Galloway and Xavier Johnson, IU is likely leaning on youth in the backcourt. Woodson said Cupps has performed well this preseason.
“He’s been really one of the bright spots,” Woodson said. “He seems to do everything that we’ve asked him to do. I can’t help but think, in time, he’s going to continue to get better and grow once he figures out the college game. But he’s done a lot of good things on the floor for us in terms of winning basketball plays. That’s what I like to call it because he does a lot of good things to help you win games.”
Addressing recruiting experience
Woodson, obviously, is not allowed to address specific recruits by name in press conferences. So he can’t directly discuss landing Liam McNeeley, missing out on Boogie Fland, or the looming decision by Derik Queen, who announced his final four schools on Friday.
But he’s still able to generally talk about recruiting, from a broader standpoint. And when he was asked about his NBA experience, along with his age, and how that’s impacted recruiting, Woodson set the record straight.
“Only you guys (the media) was worrying about the age,” Woodson said. That was never a factor when I came in the door. I’ve been coaching a long time, and I’m healthy enough to coach. Mentally I’m sharp enough to coach. I didn’t have a problem coming back to Indiana. That was you guys saying that I was too old and couldn’t recruit. You have to recruit some in the pros, gentlemen, when you’re going after free agency, and some of the same things I’m doing now, I had to do at the pro level. You just do it on a bigger scale in terms of — as far as the money, the money makes it bigger.”
Woodson has found success on the recruiting trail since he arrived in Bloomington, and that’s grown over time. He put together top-20 classes, per 247Sports Composite, at IU each of the last two years, and brought in Indiana’s highest-rated commit in five years in Mgbako.
There are more similarities, Woodson said, between college recruiting and NBA free agency than some may think. He was already used to dealing with parents and various handlers in the NBA. His primary emphasis with recruiting has simply been getting Indiana back in the conversations with top prospects.
“My thing was just being able to sit at the table with the best players that are out there. That’s the only thing I was thinking about when I came here: how can I get to the best players,” Woodson said. “My coaching staff, they gave me their opinions about it early on saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to wait your turn.’ Well, I didn’t feel as though I had to wait my turn. Just get us to the table and let’s see what happens. We’ve had some pretty good success being able to recruit and talk to some of the top players. We haven’t gotten them all, and you’re not. You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. But hell, if you never get an opportunity to talk to the best players, it’s not going to work as far as I’m concerned.”
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