Photo via Trayce Jackson-Davis on Instagram

Woodson’s off-court focus turning to scheduling, recruiting 2022 and 2023 classes

Mike Woodson’s mind is most focused on basketball and when he’ll actually get a chance to coach it.

The first-year Indiana coach isn’t used to having all these NCAA rules about when and where he’s actually allowed to watch his guys play after 25 years as an NBA coach so he’s itching for some on-court instruction whenever he can get it.

“I know I get to start on the floor with these guys on the 9th, so I’m looking forward to that,” Woodson said during a Zoom press conference Wednesday. “On the 10th rather. I’m really looking forward to that, because, again, you never know what you got until you put them on the floor and start doing drills and giving them schemes and things of that nature on both ends of the floor. My biggest hurdle I think is how quickly can they pick it up. You just don’t know until you get out and start practicing.”

But while he’s mostly stuck on his office work for another two weeks, he has a few other off-court matters to focus on now that he appears to have his roster set for the 2021-22 season.

For one thing, he has to schedule his 2021-22 season, or at least the non-conference portion of it. The Hoosiers are involved in their standard annual events — the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Crossroads Classic, this year the Gavitt Tip-Off Games — but so far the only other game that has been announced has been a home game with Merrimack. The Hoosiers haven’t been mentioned in any multi-team events (MTEs) such as the Preseason NIT, Battle for Atlantis or Maui Invitational, but it’s possible they will host their own event.

One way or another, Woodson has a lot of spots to fill on the schedule and he said he’ll be meeting with Indiana athletic department brass to get the ball moving on that.

“I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself, but I got to meet with the AD and sit down with those guys and actually see exactly where we are,” Woodson said. “That’s going to happen probably next day or two, if not early part of next week, and just look at it.”

Woodson suggested that his first non-conference schedule might not be all that loaded. He has expressed interest in the idea of re-starting the Kentucky series, though Wildcats coach John Calipari has shot down the idea in the past and suggested it be played at neutral venues in Indiana and Kentucky instead of Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena. But he said he wants to get a better idea of where his team stands before he puts it through a non-conference gauntlet.

“My thing is I like to get a team in position first before we start chasing the big boys,” Woodson said. “I mean, I’m not afraid of competition. I want a team that’s competitive, and if we can play, get back to play the Kentuckys and the Kansases and teams of that nature before we get on the Big Ten, I’m open for that.”

While he’s working on scheduling, he also has the summer to get rolling on building his recruiting classes for 2022 and 2023. He has maintained the commitment of shooting guard C.J. Gunn from Lawrence North High School, who initially committed to Indiana under former coach Archie Miller.

If all of the current players who would still have eligibility remaining stay, that would give the Hoosiers 14 scholarship players for 2022-23, which would put them one over the limit. All-American center Trayce Jackson-Davis is expected to go pro after this season, which would put them at an even 13, but because of the nationwide increased use of the transfer portal, Woodson is recruiting as if he could have openings at every position in 2022.

If the openings don’t come for the 2022 class, they will come in 2023. At the moment, the Hoosiers are scheduled to have five scholarships open for the 2023-24 season and that’s if Jackson-Davis stays for not only a fourth year but a fifth year. That number would obviously shrink if the Hoosiers lose transfers and gain freshmen for 2022, but the point is that there will be roster spots to fill by 2023.

“I think you try to go get the best players that fit what you are trying to do, and with the portal, you don’t know from year to year who is going to stay and who is going to leave,” Woodson said. “So I think you got to touch every position when you’re talking about building your basketball team. I’m going to talk to some of the top point guards in the country, some of the top 2s and 3 wing guys, and some of the top 4s and 5s in the country. I think that’s important when you’re trying to build your program based on the portal.”

Woodson said he isn’t necessarily concerned that players on the roster will be unnerved by the fact that he’s recruiting players at their position. He thinks they should embrace the possibility of competition for minutes.

“I know a lot of these players, they think, ‘Well, are you going to recruit over me or on top of me?'” Woodson said. “And I can’t tell a kid that I’m not going to recruit on top of him. I’m going to try to recruit the best talent available that fits what I’m trying to do. I think competition, and if you’re any kind of competitor, that’s how you get better as a ball club and as an individual player. So, I mean, I’ve never ran away from competition. I just wanted to go play and try to make myself known. Those are the kinds of kids I’m trying to recruit here, but I’m trying to sit at the table with some of the top players.”

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