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Mike Woodson and his players are aligned: It is time to get IU basketball back on track

One word:  Homecoming.

For head coach Mike Woodson, it is a chance to return his alma mater to past glory. For fans, this new era of Indiana men’s basketball is a breath of fresh air and brings a sense of excitement and optimism that has sometimes been hard to come by the last few years.

For the head coach, that homecoming is a pinch yourself experience.

“To be able to circle back and come back home to Bloomington as well as Indianapolis where it all started for me in high school, it’s like a dream come true. I don’t think you can print it any other way,” Woodson said.

Now it is time for Woodson to attempt to return his beloved alma mater to its former glory, and optimism abounds he can get it done.

After a 12-15 season and no NCAA Tournaments since 2016, why the positive outlook? Coach Woodson inherits a team that has experience and leadership — and they share his vision and appreciation of the program’s rich history.

The headliner is the return of junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, named preseason first-team All-American by several outlets.

Discussing his intent to return to Indiana for another season and how he wants to be remembered, Jackson-Davis emphasized not only the storied history of a program like Indiana, but his belief in Woodson to navigate through rough waters and get the Hoosiers back where they belong.

“My legacy, I want to get Indiana basketball back on track,” Jackson-Davis said. “That’s my goal, that’s why I came back because I believe in this tradition, I believe what we have here is something special and I want to be one of the reasons why. I don’t want to be someone who ran away when it was tough. Really all in all it’s just I believe in Coach Woodson and I believe in the tradition of Indiana basketball I know we can get it back,” Jackson-Davis said.

Helping Jackson-Davis will be fellow experienced players and program veterans in senior point guard Rob Phinisee and redshirt senior forward Race Thompson.  Collectively they lead a team of talent and depth.

Asked about the history of Indiana basketball, Phinisee wasn’t shy in acknowledging the program’s rich tradition.  It is something he can’t shy away from because he hears about it from all sides.

“The history is, it’s really deep,” Phinisee said. “I feel like the fans they really display it and make you hear about it. But Coach Woodson every day before and after practice he has us look at the Big Ten championships and national championships and says the goal is to win a Big Ten championship this year then a national championship too,” Phinisee said.

Race Thompson had a similar response when asked about the program’s history and how that drives the team day in and day out.

“We talk about it every single day and we don’t want to just talk about it we try to be about it,” Thompson said of the internal conversations about the program history. … “We’re working towards a bigger thing — bringing back basketball greatness to Bloomington, Indiana,” Thompson said.

With Jackson-Davis, Phinisee, and Thompson leading the way for the Hoosiers on the court, Woodson believes his vision when he took the job at Indiana can come to fruition.  That vision, which has roots from his time as a player at IU, is relayed on the recruiting trail too.

“Coach Knight he preached about family, team, and he had so much success with his early teams. So when I go out and recruit, I preach family and I tell the team every day when we’re practicing to look up in the rafters and look at those Big Ten titles and those national titles because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Woodson said.

If you ask anyone from the Knight era, above all else those national championship banners were delivered on a foundation of preparation and effort.  In that regard, Woodson has been encouraged by what he has seen from his first team.

Speaking to the traits the players have shown thus far, their willingness to listen, buy-in, and give effort has stood out to Woodson.  But to reach their end goal of Big Ten and national titles, he knows there is still much more work to be done.

“That they played hard,” Woodson said when asked what he has noticed the most about his team.  “They’re doing everything that we’ve asked them to do, but like I always say with young players and Knight used to say it, hey because you think you play hard there’s always another level of playing hard.”

The wait is almost over to see what this season and the Mike Woodson era holds for Indiana men’s basketball.

What we already know is for Mike Woodson, being back at Indiana is personal, and his goals are clear.

And his players are aligned in that vision.  Woodson won’t let them forget.

All they have to do is look up.  And they do it every day.


The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”