In April of 1999, former Indiana Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American Luke Recker announced he was transferring away from the IU basketball program.
The news came at a time when transfers were rare in college basketball. There was no transfer portal, and players had to sit out a season if they chose to move on to another school.
Recker had scored nearly 1,000 points in two seasons at IU, and he was third team All-Big Ten as a sophomore. The idea of transferring was painful for the Waterloo, Ind. product.
“This is the toughest decision I have ever made,” he said in a statement in 1999. “I love the state of Indiana and playing for IU was always my lifelong dream. It is not easy to leave my friends, my family and my home state. I love to play basketball and the thought of sitting out a year (as a transfer) kills me.”
Recker was the third former McDonald’s All-American to leave the IU program over a two-year span, and the news had many wondering if head coach Bob Knight’s coaching style was still effective.
IU head coach Mike Woodson knows Knight’s approach to coaching as well as anyone. He thrived under Knight from 1976 to 1980 and closed his career with 2,061 points, fifth-best in program history. And just to put things in perspective, that was a scoring total Recker (954 points) could have clearly passed.
Woodson has routinely referred to Knight as the greatest coach in the history of the college game, and he credits Knight for shaping him into the person he is today. That isn’t just lip service to the coaching legend. Woodson means it, and a deep respect runs both ways in their relationship.
“He taught me how to be a man on and off the floor,” Woodson said of Knight when he was hired last March.
But Woodson also recognizes that what worked for him as a player at IU more than 40 years ago may not be the best formula in today’s game.
“Players today are different, you know they really are,” Woodson said last week when asked about the difference between playing for him and Knight. “And that’s no knock against these players. I just don’t think players that I coach today could have gotten through a three-hour practice with Bob Knight.
“I don’t mean that in a negative way (towards Knight), because it set the table for who I am today. But players are different, I don’t think you can coach that way.”
Knight was known for running a tight ship, and discipline was central to his approach. Almost every player who played for him has a story or two about running the steps at Assembly Hall.
And those are some of the more mild tales from his era.
Woodson says he adopted some of Knight’s disciplinarian ways early in his career as an NBA head coach, but gradually gravitated away from that approach.
“I try to be fair until you show me differently. I’m going to always push players, on both sides of the ball. But I don’t punish players, I guess you could call it punishment,” Woodson said.
“Back in the day we used to do these suicide drills, where you had to run when you didn’t do things right, I don’t do that anymore. I did it with my young Hawks team and I got away from that.”
But there are similarities between how Woodson coaches the Indiana program and how he was coached while in Bloomington.
Woodson famously lit a fire under star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis during halftime of a Big Ten Tournament game against Michigan in March. And he doubled-down the next day when he told Jackson-Davis he was scared of Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn. The maneuvers by Woodson helped to produce two wins the Hoosiers needed to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Knight produced a treasure trove of quotes over the course of his career, and one of his greatest lines involved his view on how best to motivate players.
“The greatest motivator of all is your ass on the bench,” Knight said in 1987. “There is no better motivator. Ass meets bench, bench retains ass, ass transmits signals to the brain, brain transmits signals to the body, body gets ass off bench and plays better. It’s a hell of a sequence.”
Bob Knight on motivation (1987) pic.twitter.com/2c9UY8l3ch
— College Basketball Classics (@ClassicsCBB) January 11, 2022
Woodson seemed to be channeling his former head coach last week, with a G-rated, and a bit less scientific way of saying the same thing.
“I think the biggest tool that you have in coaching is playing time,” Woodson said. “Every player wants to play, and if you take that away from them, that gets their attention.”
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