Mike Woodson didn’t come to Indiana with a ready-made assistant coaching staff or even a group of fellow travelers looking to make the same NBA-to-college transition he was. No one else on Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the New York Knicks was looking to make the jump from a storied franchise that is showing a pulse for the first time in several years, currently sitting in the eighth playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference and therefore in position to make the playoffs for the first time since Woodson was head coach in 2012-13.
So far the hires he has made have been somewhat obvious, but also valuable. He kept Kenya Hunter, who was hired by fired coach Archie MIller and kept on after his firing to be part of the transition. He also added Dane Fife, an IU alum who helped the Hoosiers to the national title game in 2002, and had been working on Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State for nearly a decade.
He’s down to one staff position available and hopes to fill that soon. According to sources, one possible candidate is Yasir Rosemond, who has coached at Alabama, Georgia, Samford, Seattle and Oregon.
He and Hunter had never crossed paths, but Woodson recognized the need to have someone on staff with familiarity with the current players on the roster. It’s also helped that Hunter has strong recruiting connections on the East Coast. According to Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson, Hunter was integral in his recruitment. Hunter also had a relationship with the Stewart family that helped the Hoosiers land Tennessee-Martin transfer guard Parker Stewart in December. Keeping Hunter around helped them keep Stewart on the roster after Miller was fired.
“I had a chance to sit with him before I hired him,” Woodson told reporters Friday. “I had a chance to have a film session with him and I had him critique some film that we were watching together of our ball club playing last year. I tried to get some insight of how he thought about game plans and things of that nature. He fit right into some things that I liked. That’s why I hired him. He had a good rapport with some of the players that were already here. That was very meaningful for me.”
Woodson had never worked with Fife, and Woodson’s playing career at Indiana ended 18 years before Fife’s began. But they crossed paths enough times to get to know each other and to believe they could make it work. Fife, the former head coach at IPFW, was an associate head coach at Michigan State and had been there since 2011. The Spartans went to five Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights and two Final Fours in Fife’s time in East Lansing.
“To be able to bring Dane back was huge,” Woodson said. “He’s had a great run with Tom Izzo, who I have nothing but respect for. I’ve come to know him over the years. The way he’s run his program is a testament to how great of a coach he is. For Dane to leave that situation to come back here and be willing to work and help me means a lot to me. We’ve just been around each other a couple of days. I’ve known Dane from afar and been to team functions here when we’ve come back with the old-timers over the years. It’s just good to have him back here and be able to work with me one-on-one in a coaching basketball relationship.”
If Rosemond would be hired he would be the only coach without a direct Indiana connection, though he coached under former Indiana assistant Bennie Seltzer at Samford. He has not been in Division I coaching since Avery Johnson was let go as head coach at Alabama in 2019 and Nate Oats was hired as his replacement. Rosemond was not retained on Oats’ staff. However, he was part of the staff that led Oregon to the Elite Eight in 2007. He also played at Oregon for two years after spending his first two college seasons in the junior college ranks.
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