Indiana’s trip to Atlanta this weekend to face Auburn will be a journey back home for some, and a trip down memory lane for head coach Mike Woodson.
Woodson spent six seasons (2004-2010) as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. After taking over one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, Woodson went 100-64 in his last two seasons with two trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The third-year IU coach still has close ties to the city.
“It means a lot. That’s where my head coaching career began, and I still have a home there, a lot of friends, people that supported me when I first started my journey as a head coach in Atlanta,” Woodson said on Thursday.
“It was important that I take a game back there because I think for a lot of the people that supported me that were in my corner, they are still there, and that means a lot to me.
“I figure bringing a game back would be something special for the people that have supported me all these years.”
Saturday’s game is being played in State Farm Arena, the same building where Woodson coached the Hawks. He has fond memories of molding Atlanta into a playoff team.
“The beauty about that young team, from my peers, everybody kept saying, boy, you guys play hard,” Woodson said. “Boy, you’re competitive. But we just weren’t experienced enough to win games. We grew together as a group, and we eventually broke the ice and got in the playoffs, and that’s when it all took off.
“We took Boston that year in the first round to seven games, and they ended up winning the NBA title, which that was the biggest thing for those young kids to experience because they hadn’t been in the playoffs. Once they got there, the media and everybody had us being swept and wouldn’t win a game. Hell, we forced a Game 7, which could have went either way. They ended up winning and then going on to win an NBA title.
“Those were fond memories, to be able to take a team of young men and build it and have some success behind it.”
Associate head coach Yasir Rosemond is an Atlanta native. He was a standout guard at Douglass High School there. He earned All-State honors each of final three seasons and helped lead the Astros to the semifinals of the 1993 Class 4A state tournament.
The addition of Rosemond to Woodson’s staff in 2021 helped lead to the successful recruitment of the two Georgia-based players on the roster.
Sophomore forward Kaleb Banks was named the 2022 Georgia Class 4A Player of the Year, was a 2,000-point scorer, and averaged 23.0 points and 10.0 boards per game during his senior season at Fayette County in Hampton, just south of Atlanta.
“It’s a game back home, it’s really cool for me,” Banks said on Thursday. “I wasn’t expecting this. Once I first found out we were going to play back in Atlanta I was really excited. I never thought that I would get a chance or opportunity here at IU to play on the south side of things, but I’m pretty happy about that.”
He won’t play on Saturday, but freshman guard Jakai Newton hails from suburban Atlanta as well. He averaged 14.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game during his junior season at Newton in nearby Covington.
Indiana and Auburn tip at 2 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPN2) at the State Farm Arena.
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