When Mike Woodson first met with his players in the spring of 2021, he asked them who was on board for the following season. No one raised their hand.
So the 25-year NBA coaching veteran went straight to the top, to Trayce Jackson-Davis, his All-American big man and the leader of the Hoosiers. After a meeting where Woodson showed Jackson-Davis how he can improve his NBA Draft stock, Jackson-Davis was on board for his junior season. Most of his teammates fell in line, too.
Indiana won 21 games during Woodson's first season, including the Hoosiers' first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2016. They made a run in the Big Ten Tournament to sneak into the First Four, where they defeated Wyoming 66-58. The season ended with a 29-point loss to Saint Mary's in the round of 64, but for Woodson – considering where things stood after his first meeting with the team – it was a good season.
"I thought it was a successful run making the tournament, so I was very pleased," Woodson said. "I thanked them and told them how much I loved them, and now we've got to get better. That's the name of the game when you're coaching."
Now, Woodson is going through his first offseason as a college basketball coach. He's secured a top-10 recruiting class, he's learning the changes that the transfer portal and NIL money have brought to college basketball, and most of all, he's waiting on a decision.
"I think the big question now is, is Trayce Jackson-Davis going to come back?" Woodson said. "I'm hoping like hell he comes back because he's a big piece to the puzzle."
Jackson-Davis has until June 1 to decide if he'll pursue an NBA career or return to Indiana for his senior year. The All-American forward led Indiana in points, rebounds and blocked shots last year, and he'd be a popular candidate for the 2022-2023 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.
But if Jackson-Davis doesn't return, Woodson plans to follow the longtime sports cliché of "next man up." Race Thompson is returning for his sixth year of college, and Indiana has a pair of young forwards in Logan Duncomb and Malik Reneau, who Woodson said would have to grow into their bodies and mature quickly. Jordan Geronimo is also returning for his junior season.
"We've got enough talent around Trayce if he doesn't come back," Woodson said. "Those guys have got to step up and play. I've got to coach 'em up."
Since making the transition from the NBA to college, Woodson has enjoyed having more time to teach and prepare. In the NBA, playing three or four games a week doesn't allow for as much preparation or teaching moments, which he has emphasized at Indiana.
"In the college game, that's the beauty about it," Woodson said. "I love to teach, and I put a good staff around me to help me with my preparation, which I love doing that as well. Putting the game plan together and hoping the players can execute and if they do, more likely you win the ball game."
By now, it's been over a year since Woodson was named the head coach at Indiana, and college basketball has already experienced wholesale changes. More players than ever have entered the transfer portal, and student athletes can now profit off their name, image and likeness.
Woodson said the transfer portal changes the game, and every season it's possible to have a disgruntled player that wants to leave the program. Last season, Woodson added Xavier Johnson, Miller Kopp and Michael Durr to his team through the transfer portal. And following his first season, Rob Phinisee, Khristian Lander, Parker Stewart and Durr entered the transfer portal.
"I tell the players, 'If you don't want to play for us, then you leave and I'll find me somebody that would love to play and wear that uniform,'" Woodson said.
As for the changes NIL has brought, Woodson said he is happy for players that can earn money, and he is not against players getting paid, but he is against players that strictly use the sport to get paid.
"You come to college to get an education and play basketball if that's the sport you choose," Woodson said. "That, to me, is first and foremost. So if you think any other way, I don't want you on our ball club. You can go somewhere else and do your thing in that regard."
Coaching at Indiana has also been a homecoming for Woodson, who has had the chance to see his former coach Bob Knight at times throughout the year. Woodson considers Knight the greatest college basketball coach of all time, and he feels blessed to have played for Knight. Woodson has tried to take bits and pieces of advice from Knight, someone Woodson knows will always be there in heart and spirit.
"If I can accomplish half the things [Knight] has accomplished in his time at Indiana, boy, I'll be a happy man," Woodson said. "My clock is ticking. I've got to do it awfully fast."
Stories related to Indiana basketball:
- JACKSON-DAVIS UNABLE TO COMPETE AT COMBINE: Indiana star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis was invited to the NBA Draft Combine, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed various events at the combine. Jackson-Davis has until June 1 to decide if he'll go pro or return to Indiana. CLICK HERE
- JACKSON-DAVIS NOT SELECTED IN MOCK DRAFTS: The NBA lottery was on Tuesday, revealing the complete order for the 2022 NBA Draft. Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has until June 1 to decide to stay in the draft or return to college, wasn't projected to be drafted in several recent mock drafts. CLICK HERE
- FORMER HOOSIER RAY PAVY DIES AT 80: Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee, 1959 Indiana All-Star and Indiana Mr. Basketball runner-up Ray Pavy passed away on Monday at age 80. Pavy was a member of the 1960-1961 Indiana Hoosiers basketball team coached by Branch McCracken. CLICK HERE
- GREEN, NEWKIRK JOIN ASSEMBLY BALL: Former Indiana guards Devonte Green and Josh Newkirk are the first alumni announced to play for Assembly Ball in The Basketball Tournament. This 64-team tournament will begin on July 16 with a $1 million prize for the winning team. CLICK HERE