Coming into a year in which the team lost key players such as Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Miller Kopp, effectively recruiting high school players and the portal was of paramount importance for Indiana.
As soon as Mackenzie Mgbako, a 2023 McDonald’s All-American and consensus 5-star recruit at forward decommitted from Duke, the Hoosiers became a real possibility.
“Mackenzie kind of stumbled into our hands which was an amazing story. I mean I don’t want to get too deep into it but at the end of the day his mom gave us an opportunity to recruit him and once he got here we were able to close the deal and keep him here,” head coach Mike Woodson said.
Mgbako admitted his mom was a big part of helping him during the recruitment process.
He said, “She does her homework.”
As far as how they viewed Coach Woodson, Mgbako smiled.
“I feel like there’s nothing not to like about Coach Woodson. He’s a funny, very down to earth type of guy. You know he’s very approachable and he’s straight and to the point. You know he’s a straight shooter, he doesn’t play any games and what he says he does. You know he follows up on his word,” Mgbako said.
Although the potential is there, Woodson doesn’t want to put too much expectations on a freshman too early, as he knows there is a long way to go.
“Only time will tell,” Woodson said. “You know he’s capable of putting the basketball in the hole he’s shown that this summer. You know we got to help him as coaches put him in the best position possible to be successful and help us. I’m expecting big things from him but I’m not putting a lot of pressure on him, he’s a freshman,” Woodson said.
Even though he is a freshman and there are going to be growing pains, simply bringing in a player of Mgbako’s caliber shows Woodson believes Indiana can get the best.
Since day one, Woodson was clear in his goals for IU when it came to recruiting. He wanted them to have a seat at the table with the country’s elite.
“When I took this job I made it clear to my staff that we had to go and recruit the best players … I think we’ve positioned ourselves to be able to sit at the table with all the top players. And that’s not to say you’re going to get them but if you’re not sitting there then you don’t have an opportunity at all,” Woodson said.
Where does that unwavering belief and confidence come from? Well, it stems from Woodson never shying away from competition, but rather embracing it.
Going back to his days at Indiana playing for head coach Bob Knight and throughout his NBA career, competing is in his DNA.
He said, “I like competition that’s just, that’s my nature it’s how I’ve been all my life as a player and coach. You can’t be scared of competition man or you in the wrong game.”
You can see some of that same competitive fire in Mgbako, who says his goal is to be preparing for his first NBA season at this time next year.
There is little doubt Mgbako will have a significant role on this 2023-24 edition of IU basketball. But sight unseen, there are still questions on how the 6-foot-8 New Jersey product will be utilized. On the defensive end, he fits Woodson’s desired prototype of a long athlete who can guard multiple spots.
“I feel like we’re interchangeable, two, three, four and five, I’m going to be guarding all positions this year,” Mgbako says.
On offense, the expectation is Mgbako will see time at the three and four spots. He says he’s been focused on his ball handling and decisiveness on the wing to be ready.
“Just stay tuned, see what I’ve got to offer,” he said.
There is about a four week wait for Indiana fans before Mgbako’s versatile skill set is on display at Assembly Hall in an exhibition matchup against the University of Indianapolis on Oct. 29.
Until then, they will have to be patient. But Woodson is confident Mgbako is the right fit in Bloomington, and the fans will like what they see.
“Mackenzie’s a big part to the puzzle, that’s why we went and recruited him,” Woodson said.
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