When Mike Woodson took over as head coach of Indiana men’s basketball in 2021, one of the biggest questions around the hire was how he would fare in recruiting.
Woodson’s pure coaching acumen was evident through his long NBA career, and his dedication to the program was unquestionably strong. But there are differences between coaching in the professional ranks and the college game, the biggest of which is on the recruiting trail. Many wondered if Woodson was cut out for the constant grind that is recruiting, and if he knew what he was getting himself into in that regard.
This is now his third offseason in the job, and his most important one so far. Woodson and his staff are certainly not batting 1.000 on the recruiting trail and the transfer portal. But they’ve proven they can get the job done.
Indiana landed a commitment from five-star class of 2023 forward Mackenzie Mgbako on Friday, very late in the cycle for the upcoming class. With the way this went down — Mgbako decommitted from Duke in mid-April — it was more akin to a transfer portal recruitment than a typical high schooler.
Woodson and his staff got the job done in around a month. And this wasn’t a one-off — it was a pretty similar timeline and set of circumstances when IU landed Malik Reneau last spring, and with Tamar Bates the year before. It’s become a trend with this IU staff landing top recruits who decommitted from other schools late in the cycle. Bates, Reneau, and Mgbako are three of the four highest-ranked commits by 247Sports that Woodson has landed at Indiana.
Mgbako is the highest ranked of those four, including Jalen Hood-Schifino. Recruiting victories don’t count in the standings, and time will tell how big of an impact this will really have on the court. But winning a recruiting battle like this, at all, says something about Indiana’s status. Beating out a blue blood like Kansas for a national top-1o recruit is a big deal.
The combination of the NCAA’s one-time transfer rule and the transfer portal, along with the rampantly expanding influence of NIL, has greatly impacted recruiting and roster-building in college athletics.
That all started to kick in high gear shortly after Woodson took over in Bloomington. That timing may have been fortunate, giving the rest of the sport new things to adapt to as Woodson was getting acclimated. And certainly, landing a top prospect like Mgbako — and beating out a school like Kansas for him — is a sign that Indiana is well-positioned with NIL resources.
And perhaps Woodson and his staff are more suited for this sort of rapid-fire recruitment. It’s more like the chaotic, transactional nature of NBA free agency than the usual slow build of a traditional recruitment.
Sure, Indiana’s had misses in this regard, too. IU has landed three players from the transfer portal this offseason, with Payton Sparks coming from Ball State, Kel’el Ware from Oregon, and Anthony Walker from Miami. But the Hoosiers have seen players whom they were very publicly linked to — like Harvard transfer Chris Ledlum and Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht — go elsewhere.
But no school lands every single player it desires. The greatest recruiters of all-time have swung and missed plenty.
And Woodson isn’t at that level, by any means. But through his three years at the helm for IU, he’s shown he can recruit successfully in a lot of different ways — the traditional route, with Hood-Schifino; pouncing on decommits like Mgbako or transfer portal fits like Ware; or even getting current talent to stay, like Trayce Jackson-Davis.
It’s becoming clear that Woodson’s strength in recruiting is the more rapid of the three. It’s where college basketball is headed, as transfer numbers continue to exponentially grow across the sport.
And so, perhaps, IU is well-positioned for that future after all.
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