There’s a simple way to explain the urgency to win Mike Woodson feels as the head coach of IU basketball.
Other than the fact, of course, he’s coaching at a place where urgency to win is the expectation.
Woodson was drafted by the New York Knicks before Carmelo Anthony was born, he coached Anthony in New York, and now he’s recruiting Anthony’s son at Indiana.
Okay, no, it’s more simple than that.
Woodson is 65 and not getting any younger. Okay, yes, I’m saying Woodson is old.
No, actually he kind of said that. And, he came to IU with lofty goals.
Now in his third year as the head coach at Indiana, conventional wisdom would say Woodson should have this Indiana program up and running, and his culture firmly in place. Year three is the year to put it all together, with veterans who know the system inside and out. If it’s going to work, the machine should be humming along at this point.
Instead, through no real fault of his own, Woodson has just six players back from last year’s second place Big Ten team, and just three who have been with him for each of his first two seasons leading the program.
At the confluence of the transfer portal, NIL, and early NBA Draft entries, every season is a rebuild to some extent in college basketball right now. And that’s where Woodson’s wisdom gained through, well, all those years, would seem to come in handy.
While this era of college basketball seems like a traveling circus to many, this ain’t Woodson’s first ride on the merry-go-round when it comes to roster construction.
“I did it in Atlanta, where we flipped that roster within two, three years,” Woodson said on Wednesday.
“In New York I did it one year, we surrounded Carmelo Anthony with nine different players and were able to go and win the division and get to the second round of the Playoffs.”
Woodson is focused on the one year plan right now.
When Woodson was hired he was routinely asked about his readiness for the college game, namely the recruiting part.
As it has turned out, at least some aspects of college basketball recruiting have turned into something resembling the NBA.
Much like NBA free agency, college rosters are turning over like never before, with everything moving at warp speed during the offseason. The notion of methodically building a roster, players methodically working their way up the ladder, or doing much of anything methodically, has vanished.
And that’s okay for Woodson, because he isn’t really taking the long view anyway.
“There’s always urgency on my part,” Woodson said. “I mean, I want to win now.”
But Woodson doesn’t mind admitting that so far, his sense of urgency hasn’t led to the results he’s seeking at IU. He’s not calling the progress you’ve seen a success.
“I took this job to win Big Ten titles and national titles and I’ve fallen short the first two years,” he said. “‘I’m always optimistic as a coach when I go into a season. This season is no different.”
Fueling that optimism is combination of returning veterans and some promising fresh faces.
Woodson says he doesn’t know who will start yet, but the most likely starters in the backcourt are two of the three who have been with him both years at IU, Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway, who he named captains during the offseason. He also says he has high expectations of returning sophomores Malik Reneau, C.J. Gunn and Kaleb Banks.
And Woodson has added a 5-star high school recruit in Mackenzie Mgbako, and a 7-foot center already on some 2024 NBA Draft boards in Kel’el Ware, just to name the headline newcomers.
There’s talent on this team, for sure.
But there is still much to figure out when it comes to piecing everything together, and turning this roster into a functional basketball team capable of even sniffing the rarified air Woodson is seeking.
It’s a big ask, but don’t even talk about a rebuilding season. Woodson doesn’t have time for that.
“I don’t want to wait,” he said. “My clock’s ticking. I want everything this year.”
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