Mike Woodson couldn’t afford to attend Bob Knight’s basketball camp when he was younger, so his sixth grade teacher paid for it.
While he was there, Woodson won a three-on-three competition and Knight — the IU men’s basketball head coach at the time — gave him a T-shirt and told him he’d follow him his senior year.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” Woodson said.
Woodson said he always had his eyes on IU because the basketball program was so powerful at the time. Growing up in Indianapolis, he knew IU was where he wanted to go.
Then, Knight came knocking on his door and offered him a spot on the team. It was a no brainer — he made the decision to play basketball at IU.
Now, more than four decades later, IU Athletics Director Scott Dolson came knocking with another offer for Woodson: follow in Knight’s footsteps by becoming IU’s next head coach.
Woodson said yes.
“I've always been true to Indiana basketball, so to be able to circle back and give it another shot and trying to come back as the head coach, this time I was able to get it done,” he said.
Dolson named Woodson as IU men’s basketball’s 30th head coach Sunday. Woodson addressed the media for the first time as head coach Monday.
Before opening up the floor to questions, the first thing Woodson did was acknowledge Knight and not only what he means to IU basketball, but also what Knight means to himself.
“He took a chance on a kid out of Indianapolis many years ago to come here and play basketball,” Woodson said. “He taught me how to be a man on and off the floor.”
But it wasn’t just about basketball. Woodson was just trying to get an education — he promised his family he would. Knight helped him do that. Then, he was drafted into the NBA where he played for 11 years.
After he was done playing, though, Woodson said he felt he had something to give back. So he got into coaching.
“I just felt after I left the game of playing, I had something to offer some young kid as a coach on and off the floor,” Woodson said. “I like to think the years that I played here at Indiana University, Coach Knight did something right because I turned out just fine.”
Now as he enters his first full day as head coach, Woodson can begin to be that person Knight was for him for the future generations of basketball players.
“I never dreamt that this would ever happen to me, but I’m here,” Woodson said.
He became emotional during the press conference about how happy he was to be back. He said it was not only a great day for himself and his family, but a great day for the Hoosier nation.
Woodson is taking it upon himself to bridge the gap between the younger generation that doesn't know who he is and the older generation he wants to become reinvested in IU basketball.
He said at the end of the day, this is all about two things: the fans and the players.
“I'm going to meet with each player individually today and kind of see where their heart and mind are and talk about moving this program in the right direction, and that’s getting it back on top,” Woodson said. “That's why I'm here. I'm excited about being here. Scott, you just have no idea, this is a wonderful day.”
Dolson said Woodson was the perfect choice, and he summarized his reasoning into three points: He was the perfect fit as a person, he’s a visionary and his vision aligned with Dolson’s.
“It was clear that Mike was the right choice,” Dolson said. “He checked those boxes, among all others.”
But Woodson has no college coaching experience. He was the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks from 2004-10 and the New York Knicks from 2011-14. This means he has no experience recruiting high schoolers, but that doesn’t matter to Woodson. He said he thinks will still be able to relate to the people he’s recruiting.
Woodson said there’s no better place in the country to play basketball, and that’s what he’s going to tell people. He said this whole program is going to be about being family.
“I'm going to let them know that I'm in their corner, that we're family,” Woodson said. “I'm going to always have an open door policy where they can come in and talk to Coach Woodson.”
Ever since that day Knight gave him that T-shirt, it’s all come full circle for Woodson. Now, he gets to be the head coach — the one to knock on players’ doors and to shape them into good men on and off the floor, all at his alma mater.