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Mike Woodson hoping to re-establish championship celebrations at Indiana behind Johnson, Galloway

Indiana head coach Mike Woodson speaks during Big Ten NCAA college basketball Media Days on Oct. 10, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

(AP) — Indiana coach Mike Woodson returned to his alma mater for one reason — to win championships.

Now entering his third season, Woodson and his team are still trying to earn their first major title and they think its time to end their drought.

“My goal is nothing individually,” point guard Xavier Johnson said as he begins his sixth college season. “I want to win. That’s the last thing on my list to do in college is to win.”

Woodson understands. His four-year college career fit neatly between Bob Knight’s first two national championship runs and Woodson had to overcome an injury during his senior season to earn the title of league champ.

But things in Bloomington haven’t been the same over the past three days. Since claiming 12 conference crowns between 1972-73 and 1992-93, Indiana has captured three league titles — a shared championship in 2001-02 and outright titles in 2012-13 and 2015-16.

The Hoosiers also are one of seven conference teams that haven’t won the conference tourney, and next season it will lose the distinction of being the Big Ten’s leader in national titles (five) to newcomer UCLA (11). Indiana’s last one came in 1986-87.

And if this is going to be the year, Woodson will have to rebuild quickly. Three starters — All-American forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, forward Race Thompson and guard Miller Kopp — graduated and a fourth, guard Jalen Hood-Schifino also is in the NBA. So Woodson is leaning heavily on Johnson and third-year guard Trey Galloway to help 10 new players get acclimated.

While it may not happen overnight, Woodson a title run is realistic.

“I thought we put ourselves in pretty good position the last two years. In the tournament we were right there,” he said. “I just didn’t get them over the hump, and that’s something I live with every day of my life. Somehow, I’ve got to get them over the hump. That’s all I think about.”


Two new players — 7-foot-2 center Kel’el Ware and 6-8 forward Mackenzie Mgbako — stand apart from the other newcomers. Both have McDonald’s All-American credentials and something to prove.

Mgbako was arrested on two misdemeanor charges last weekend after refusing to leave a fast-food restaurant at 2:15 a.m. Ware is looking for a new start after one, underachieving season at Oregon.

“I told him (Ware), the word is out,” Woodson said. “They knocked you and said, ‘Hey, you’re lazy, you don’t work hard. If you make a commitment to me, that’s got to change.’”


The presence of Johnson and Galloway, a top defender who doubled as a point guard following Johson’s season-ending injury last season, should help smooth the transition. Both are valuable ball-handlers and leaders who can help push sophomores Malik Reneau, Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn to become more established players.

“We’ve done a great job this off-season of holding guys accountable and getting guys in the gym and getting a lot of shots up,” Galloway said. “I think it’s going to carry over into the season for us, and it’s going to be huge for us to stick with it and shoot the ball with confidence.”


Indiana’s other newcomers include 6-10 forward Payton Sparks, a two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection; 6-8 forward Anthony Walker, who played on Miami’s Final Four team; 6-3 guard Jackson Creel, a junior college transfer; 6-5 guard Jordan Rayford, who spent last season at Air Force and 6-3 guard Gabe Cupps, Ohio’s 2022 Mr. Basketball.


Woodson has adopted Knight’s philosophy of playing challenging nonconference teams. After opening with 2013 NCAA Tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 6 and Army, Knight’s former school, the Hoosiers face No. 6 UConn, the defending national champs, and either Louisville or No. 18 Texas in New York. December’s dates include back-to-back games against Auburn and No. 1 Kansas.


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