Mike Woodson off to Great Start as IU Men's Basketball Coach

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When Indiana removed Archie Miller as head basketball coach, most assumed they would target an established coach with experience coaching college basketball. Names of potential candidates floated around, with the most notable being Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Texas Tech coach Chris Beard and veteran college coaches like Thad Matta and John Beilein. Instead Athletic Director Scott Dolson opted to bring back legendary Indiana player Mike Woodson to fill the coaching void. 

The hiring was met with a mix of disappointment and applause. There are positives and negatives about his hire as he brings 25 years of NBA coaching experience with him. He knows what NBA teams are looking for in players, he has connections to the New York Knicks and William Wesley, better known as World Wide Wes, who has relationships with some of the best high school players in the country. Detractors of the hire are that he is 63 years old on a six-year contract, has never had a job in college basketball, and has never recruited players. 

It’s clear that Dolson had a vision in place with the hiring of former Ohio State coach Thad Matta as an associate athletic director who will oversee the basketball program. It’s unclear what Matta’s responsibilities will entail, but he will be a key asset in helping Woodson transition to the college game.

Matta was one of the most sought after coaches in the country, interviewing for numerous jobs since being let go by Ohio State in 2017. It’s not a question of whether Woodson can coach, as he had two 50-plus win seasons during his time in the NBA, but the moves he has made after becoming coach at IU have built a strong foundation for success. 

In his first few weeks as the head coach of the Hoosiers, Woodson has done a great job. He has retained assistant coach Kenya Hunter, hired former Indiana player Dane Fife as an assistant coach, convinced star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis to return for his junior year and potential transfer Parker Stewart to stay, brought back Khristian Lander and Jordan Geronimo, and kept recruits Logan Duncomb and CJ Gunn. He’s put the work in early and it is clear that the players are buying into his message, as three of the six players who entered the transfer portal have announced their intention to return to Bloomington. 

Each move has been positive. The players loved the coaches on the old staff and retaining Kenya Hunter is a good way to help players through the transition. Hunter is also a good recruiter, bringing in Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson who was recruited to Nebraska when Hunter was on staff with Tim Miles and the Cornhuskers. His recruiting prowess and coaching experience will be beneficial for Woodson. 

The coaching addition of former Indiana player, Fife, who played on Indiana’s 2002 team who were runners-up for the NCAA Championship, may also spark some energy within the program. Fife has previous experience coaching at Indiana under Mike Davis, then as the head coach of IPFW. After coaching at IPFW, Fife was the associate head coach at Michigan State for 10 seasons under Tom Izzo gaining experience from one of the best coaches in the country. 

Fife, like Hunter, brings recruiting and coaching experience to the staff, as well as the experience of playing for Indiana. Keeping key players like Stewart, Jackson-Davis, Lander, and Geronimo should help the Hoosiers next season. Lander and Geronimo have untapped potential that can be fostered by the new staff, while Stewart and Jackson-Davis can bolster the offense with their experience. 

With 2021 commit, Duncomb, and 2022 commit, Gunn, announcing they’ll stick with Indiana, both will serve as key building blocks for the future. Getting them to remain committed is a good sign that Woodson can recruit as he retained most of the roster from the previous season. Woodson has built a lot of momentum in the basketball program, but the fans will have to wait until November to see the results of the early returns.

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