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Celebrating the Indianapolis City Tournament with IU’s Mike Woodson

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The stage is set on Monday night at Arsenal Tech High School for one of the most highly anticipated Indianapolis City Tournament Championship games in recent memory.

The hosts, No. 7 Tech (15-2) meet No. 11 Cathedral (12-4), a rematch from the Dec. 18 meeting won by Tech 80-73.

For first-year Indiana University Head Basketball Coach Mike Woodson the memories of this annual showcase tournament are still priceless.

“I played in the city tournaments, man, that was some of the best talent when I was coming through,” Woodson said. “When I was coming through, Arlington, Shortridge, (Arsenal) Tech, (Broad) Ripple, I mean, Crispus Attucks. There was just so much talent in the city, everybody had to beat up on each other to get through that city tournament.”

Woodson’s basketball journey is remarkable. He lost his father Chester Lee Woodson, a piano delivery man, at the age of 12. Indianapolis’ city parks and gymnasiums became a sanctuary, and his impressive play at an eighth-grade summer camp caught the eye of then Hoosiers Head Coach Bob Knight.

As Woodson has shared many times, Knight promised to follow his progress as a senior in high school, and that is all the young aspiring player needed to hear.

Legendary stories of a young Woodson, holding his own against Pacers players in pickup games as a sophomore in high school? Yes, those are true.

In 1976, Woodson was deemed by the Indianapolis Star,  “The best high school player to come out of Indianapolis since Oscar Robertson.”

He went on to lead Indiana University in scoring in each of his four collegiate seasons, en route to becoming a two-time NCAA All-American.

But, there were bumps in the road.

Before Woodson morphed into a star scorer at Broad Ripple High School, there was a long off-season thinking about a single play at the City Tournament.

“When I was a sophomore, I lost the city tournament for the (Broad Ripple) varsity,” Woodson said. “Shouldn’t even have been in the game, but (Bill) Smitty put me in at the end, and I threw the ball away, cross-court pass that led to a lay-up that ended up losing the city tournament.”

“That was tough. I had to live with that for the next year, that entire summer.”

Woodson rebounded quickly, becoming one of the top prep players of 1970s in Indianapolis and ultimately as a senior leading Broad Ripple to a City Tournament championship runner-up finish against Northwestern.  

Looking back on Woodson’s path, Bill Smith is a critical figure.

Smith spent 23 seasons as the Broad Ripple High School Head Basketball Coach, impacting countless lives as a mentor on and off the floor. Until his passing in 2014, Smith remained one of Woodson’s most trusted allies, spending time as a consultant on his NBA coaching staffs in Atlanta and New York.

“He (Smith) kind of set the table very early on before I actually got to Indiana (University) in terms of what basketball should be like on the basketball floor and what you should do off the floor,” Woodson said. “Smitty was hard, man. He wasn’t — there was no messing around with him. He left no doubt who was the coach. He was very disciplinarian.”

“When I got here to Indiana (University) I was already ready from a discipline standpoint. (Bob) Knight just kind of revved it up 10 notches because he was a lot tougher. I was mentally and physically ready to deal with it, and I thought I handled it pretty well.”

In 1980, Smith cemented his legacy as one of the most important trailblazers in Indiana High School Basketball History, becoming the first black head coach to lead an integrated team to an Indiana High School State Championship.

Forty-two years later, Smith’s legacy as a mentor is carried on by a talented group of young Indianapolis high school city basketball coaches.

“People think coaches make a lot of money, but my whole stipend pretty much goes back to the program to help our youth out,” Arsenal Tech Head Coach Damon Turner said. “It is what it is. It’s what you make of it. It’s not really about the money, it’s about just the culture.”

“We all want to play basketball, go on to that next level, do all these extra things, but here (Crispus Attucks), we’re always talking about the student-athlete,” Crispus Attucks Head Basketball Coach Chris Hawkins said. “Being a student first. Making the right decisions off the court and holding up your family name.”

Time will eventually dim the numbers and letters on the Indianapolis City Trophy. What lasts forever? 

The inspiring basketball spirit passed on by mentors to the next generation in the heart of Indianapolis.