BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — Monday was a significant first for Mike Woodson.
The fifth-leading scorer in Indiana University basketball history who is also the 1980 Big Ten Player of the Year posed for his first Hoosiers team photo in four decades.
The picture isn’t the story, though. It’s the jokes between coach and players immediately after the photographer gave the all-clear to disperse.
A 63-year-old was giving it right back to a bunch of teenagers and 20somethings after being peppered with jokes about having to get out of the Assembly Hall photo ops quickly.
Sure, every team is loose on media day. But this one wanted to be there, around their coach and each other.
As multiple players told me, it’s just “different” with Coach Woodson in charge.
Ironic because Woodson feels he is still the same guy who won over Coach Bob Knight coming out of Broad Ripple High School in the late 1970s.
“Everything has been positive,” Woodson said. “I wouldn’t expect anything different.” “Listen, my life has been spent here. You guys seem to think, hey, I’ve been away for 40 years. Quietly I’ve been here every year. You guys just didn’t know it.”
“My walk of life around town, my wife’s walk around town has been great. I mean, people are excited. I’m excited. I came back here for one reason and one reason only: to put this team back on top. I know there’s a lot of work that’s got to be done. I’m not new to this. I feel good about where I am and where I sit today. Bloomington and the people around town has had a lot to do with that.”
Woodson has established a tradition after each Hoosier’s practice. For Pittsburgh transfer guard Xavier Johnson it helps.
This place is new. The years on those banners are from a while back. And here, directly in front of him, is the man who can make it all make sense.
And it all starts with Knight.
Knight “comes up off and on. But, I tell you what comes up more than anything, is the banners that hang in both arenas, practice arena and here right next door. That’s what comes up.”
“Every time we step out on the floor, before we break huddle, I tell team look at those Big Ten titles, look at the national titles. There’s history here, man.
We’re not here just to play, man. To me there’s always been a lot at stake here even when I played here.”
“Yes, that’s Coach Knight hanging in the rafters, that’s all they need to know. I got to push ’em in that direction to make sure that they understand we’re playing to win a Big Ten and a national title, nothing else, man.”
“It’s no good thinking any other way.”
How does a program which last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2016 climb back into the college basketball conversation across the country?
To be the best, you have to beat the best.
“I don’t care who we play. I mean, I want to get this team back on top to the point where we want to be playing Kentucky and UCLA and Kansas (type teams), big games.”
“We got St. John’s, Syracuse this year. They’re considered big-time schools and big-time programs. The schedule is what it is, man. We got to take ’em one game at a time. I’ve always felt as a coach if you’re not prepared, you don’t come to work, anybody can beat you.”
The Hoosiers non-conference schedule isn’t tough enough to garner national hype, but that will matter little come the second day of the new year.
From that point forward, it’s Woodson and Indiana against the Big Ten. That’s where the real work for this new regime begins.