BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana head basketball coach Mike Woodson has been prepped and primed for such a time as this, using his collegiate and NBA career to land him in his second season as Indiana’s head coach.
“The NBA was great for me, but coming back home to coach college basketball here at Indiana, I’ve been able to really be around the players and really be…able to coach,” Woodson said. “I’m able to prepare and teach all the basketball floor things that I like to do.”
Last season, Woodson led the Hoosiers to their first NCAA Tournament since 2016 in his first year at the helm after the team finished with a 21-14 overall record.
The Indiana native can relate to his team on many levels, given that he too has worn the cream and crimson and saw his dream of playing and coaching in the NBA come to life.
Woodson was recruited by legendary coach Bob Knight in 1976. As a sophomore, Woodson and the Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 but were stopped in their tracks by Villanova.
The next season, Woodson was the leading scorer in Indiana’s NIT title win over Purdue. In his senior year, the Hoosiers made it back to the NCAA Tournament following a Big Ten regular season championship (13-5), but Purdue got its revenge knocking the Hoosiers out in the Sweet 16 round.
The big leagues called, and Woodson was drafted as the 12th overall pick by the New York Knicks in the 1980 NBA draft. He played there for two seasons before hopping around the league between five other teams including the New Jersey Nets, the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Perhaps the best moment in Woodson’s basketball career came when he started coaching. He started off as assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and finally the Detroit Pistons, where he won the 2004 NBA Championship with head coach Larry Brown.
Woodson saw a head coaching opportunity with the Atlanta Hawks the following season where he stayed for six years. After short stints with various other teams, Woodson accepted his first collegiate coaching job with Indiana ahead of last season, and boy is it different.
“The one thing that I’ve learned, being in the NBA all those years and coaching, there’s really not enough time to prepare and teach and really be a part of a player’s life because you’ve got three, four games coming at you a week in the NBA,” Woodson said. “There’s just not enough time in the day.”
That part was frustrating for him, he said. However, he had a beautiful run in the NBA and has translated his years of knowledge back to the college level.
For instance, Woodson was known for getting the most out of his players defensively in the NBA. Both him and Coach Brown limited the Pistons’ opponents to just under 42 percent shooting one season.
Last season at Indiana, those tactics shaped the Hoosiers into a defensive-minded team that ranked third (almost second) in the Big Ten allowing their opponents to score an average 66.2 points per game.
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“He treats us like adults,” Kopp said. “He treats us like pros, but he’s also on us when we mess up. He’s very specific about what he wants. It makes it easy for us as players to understand and get what he wants us to do because he’s very clear about it.”
Woodson’s clarity is always present. He said he’s there to win Big Ten titles and a national championship. Period. If the challenge to win an NCAA banner for the first time since 1987 scares the team, then they shouldn’t be there, Woodson said.
“I’m not scared of it,” he said. “You shouldn’t be scared of it. We’ve got to do this together as a unit. Again, I know expectations are high. I get that. That’s a good thing. But we’ve got to go out and do it on the floor and show that we can win a Big Ten title and a national title.”
Last season was overall pretty bright for the ball club as Woodson often refers to them as, but there certainly were dim spots. Indiana had a losing 9-11 conference record plagued by a 10-ranked offense out of 14 teams in the conference.
Woodson loves to use the phrase “need to get my team over the hump” when referring to not finishing a job. He takes full responsibility for the downsides and said he puts a lot of pressure on himself.
“I look at the Iowa game, coming down the stretch, four and a half minutes and we’re up nine and we can’t close that game out,” he said. “For me, that’s tough to swallow as a coach.”
Woodson also recognizes college ball is very different from the NBA having played in both leagues. In college, there’s lots of pick-and-rolls, three-point shots and teams at the top that will get after you defensively.
“I think we’ve got to be able to do all those things to be able to compete at a high level and beat the big-time teams,” Woodson said. “I mean, that’s what it’s going to take this season because that’s pretty much how the college game is being played.”
Another benefit to having an ex-NBA coach for the Hoosiers is that he knows all about the drafting process. Indiana will host its first NBA Pro Day in program history on Oct. 7 where 30 NBA teams will be invited to watch the Hoosiers work out in a combine-style workout.
“I think when you’ve got high expectations and you’ve got a few players that might have a crack at playing at the next level, it’s okay to invite the NBA world into your life,” Woodson said.
“Hell, it might enhance them to play harder and better.”
Woodson said he’s got lots of friends at the big level, and he’s excited for them to watch his athletes play.
Once Pro Day concludes, Woodson’s four returning starters, his top 10 recruiting class and a couple other notable bench players with opportunities for breakout seasons will set their eyes on a big season.
Come Nov. 7, Woodson will keep climbing the collegiate coaching ladder with the Hoosiers. He’s already climbed at every other level.
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