The actions Mike Woodson took on Tuesday when he suspended five players had to feel very familiar to the first-year IU basketball head coach.
Nearly 44 years ago, it was Woodson himself who was right in the middle of a mass suspension of Indiana players.
On December 12, 1978, three IU players were dismissed from the team and five others, including Woodson, Landon Turner, and leading scorer Ray Tolbert were put on indefinite probation.
Reports at the time indicated widespread marijuana use was central to the turmoil inside the program just two-and-a-half years removed from an undefeated NCAA championship season.
Head coach Bob Knight would later confirm in his autobiography that it was indeed marijuana use at a season opening tournament in Alaska that led to the chaos a couple weeks later.
“I don’t know how much it had been used before. I don’t know how much losing those games had to do with it, or how much using it had to do with losing those games. But in Alaska, somebody got some marijuana and one night seven of our players sat around a room smoking it,” Knight wrote in “Knight: My Story.”
Knight said the situation “hit me as hard as anything ever has in coaching,” and Woodson’s role was a major reason why.
“In some cases, at least according to them, that was the only time it ever happened,” Knight wrote. “And there were some awfully good kids involved, some of the best kids I ever had. There’s no player I’ve ever had that I liked or enjoyed more than Mike Woodson, and he was involved. That was very tough to handle.”
Things were so chaotic, and the Hoosiers so short-handed, Knight had to bring back a couple former players to give the team enough bodies to practice, and he also brought someone from the baseball team into the program.
While we don’t know the details surrounding why five IU basketball players were suspended yesterday, the rumors are certainly out there.
But that doesn’t matter much at this point.
What matters now is the response.
Will there by further suspensions? Dismissals?
Time will tell.
Woodson is going to have to get to the heart of the problem and find answers.
“I’m building a culture here,” Woodson said on Tuesday night in Evanston. “I’m not here to mess around with guys who don’t want to do what’s asked of them. And if they don’t, they gotta go.”
While he figures it out, Woodson will also understand that good things can come out of these situations.
In his first game off probation, he led IU with 27 points in a stunning upset of defending national champion and No. 6 Kentucky.
With its diminished roster, Indiana didn’t have the guns to make the NCAA Tournament in that 1978-79 season, but they did win what was at the time a still prized NIT crown against Purdue at the end of that tumultuous season.
And that set up Woodson’s senior year in Bloomington, when he returned from back surgery to lead the Hoosiers to the 1980 Big Ten title on his way to being named the league’s MVP.
Right now those kind of achievements seem like a fantasy. They no doubt do for Indiana’s current suspended-five.
But Woodson knows as well as anyone that youthful indiscretions don’t have to define us forever.
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