Five banners hang in the rafters of Assembly Hall casting a championship-sized shadow over the legendary arena.
For some, it represents the past success of Indiana basketball and how far the program has fallen from grace. However, first-year head coach Mike Woodson and his team have chosen to look at the banners like marking the “X” on a treasure map.
“S–t, every time we step out on the floor, before we break huddle, I tell the team ‘look at those Big Ten titles, look at the national titles,'” Woodson said during the team’s media day on Monday. “There’s history here, man. We’re not here just to play, man. To me there’s always been a lot at stake here even when I played here.”
Woodson is no stranger to the significance of basketball at IU. He played for the Hoosiers under head coach Bob Knight for four seasons from 1976-80. In his junior year, the Indianapolis native averaged 18.5 points and 6.7 rebounds a game in route to raising an NIT championship banner.
The following year, with the help of Isiah Thomas, Woodson led the way to a Big Ten regular season championship banner. At the time there were only three national championship banners, but they motivated Woodson to chase his goals. Something he is trying to get through the heads of his current players.
“Yes, that’s Coach Knight hanging in the rafters, that’s all they need to know. I got to push ’em in that direction to make sure that they understand we’re playing to win a Big Ten and a national title, nothing else, man.” Woodson added.
Last year, the Hoosiers did not come close to raising any kind of banners. They were 12-15 overall and 7-12 in the Big Ten. However, that was a different regime.
The team has seemingly bought into Woodson’s style and technique. The banners are just another way that he is trying to build team chemistry by unifying the team under one common goal.
“It reminds us everyday when we look up at the banners and that’s what’s important, it’s something that we work for. We’re not just working for ourselves, we’re working for each other. We all want to see each other succeed and we want to win together,” sophomore guard Trey Galloway said of Woodson’s tactic. “I think with us being able to look at that after and before practice, it gives us the extra boost and keeps us prepared, and I think it’s going to help us for sure.”
The 63-year-old Woodson was hired by athletic director Scott Dolson in late March. He decided to leave his job as the New York Knicks assistant coach to become the head coach in Bloomington. He wanted to be the man to turn around his alma mater, and compete with the likes of Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas.
Ultimately, he wants to see his team hang another banner.
“I came back here for one reason and one reason only — to put this team back on top. I know there’s a lot of work that’s got to be done. I’m not new to this,” Woodson said.
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