With 25 years of NBA coaching experience — and an additional 11 years as an NBA player — new IU men’s basketball head coach Mike Woodson has a good idea of what makes a player successful: Playing hard and giving maximum effort on the court.
It’s almost cliché, but to Woodson, it’s often the difference-maker.
On Friday, Woodson said nearly every young player who makes the NBA has the talent to be good. The difference between players who seemingly are just stopping by in the NBA and those who have a long career is the effort displayed on the court and their drive to continuously improve.
“Young players that I've had the opportunity to coach in the NBA, they just don't play hard,” Woodson said. “When you're young, you think you're playing hard. You've got all this talent but you just kind of slow-walk through it and go through the motions. When you learn how to play hard, that's damn near 70-80% of being a basketball player.”
At IU, Woodson isn’t going to allow stagnancy. If players want to play, they’ll need to prove themselves with their effort level.
A large part of that comes from competition, something Woodson said is a key to his coaching philosophy.
To the first-year head coach, there is always another level a player can strive to meet another gear to kick into when players start to get tired. Who Woodson wants on his team are players who have that competitive nature and drive, he said.
“When I look at the great ones, every year they come back doing something different,” Woodson said. “And you just shake your head and say, ‘Damn, wow, you must have put in a lot of time this summer.’ That’s what you got to do as a young player.”
But hard work doesn’t fall solely on the players.
Woodson said he wants to be hands-on and fully involved in player development. That’s how he coached in the NBA, working with some of the biggest stars in the sport, and he wants to continue that level of involvement at IU.
“I like being on the basketball floor and working with players, that’s just what I do,” Woodson said. “Somebody did that for me, and I turned out fine as a basketball player. So, you know, these guys are gonna get a lot of hands-on from Coach Woodson individually.”
As Woodson begins working with players, he already has some areas he wants to work on.
One of the most important focuses is up front with the forward group, specifically with sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis and junior Race Thompson. Woodson said he plans to help expand both players’ range during the offseason, allowing them to space the floor and have confidence in their jump shots.
Woodson said both Jackson-Davis and Thompson can make shots, but building their confidence is key to their growth. He said he envisions the lineup with Thompson playing the power-forward position while Jackson-Davis plays center, but for the system he plans to install to work, both players will need to be able to score from outside the paint.
Additionally, Woodson said getting Jackson-Davis comfortable driving to his right and finishing with his right hand will be a point of emphasis as he begins individual work with players and will continue throughout the summer.
“So that's what I need to get my development at, and I know that he's going to get that for me,” Jackson-Davis said about Woodson on April 2. “I averaged 19 [points per game] this year with strictly using my left hand. So being able to just open up my game even more, sky’s the limit really.”
Woodson also mentioned he has his eye on one other player who he thinks can have a major role for the Hoosiers with a little more development: freshman guard Khristian Lander.
Woodson said the first thing he’s noticed watching Lander play in person and from film is that his speed is game-changing.
Lander saw limited playing time this season after reclassifying following his junior year of high school, averaging just 2.1 points and 1.2 assists in 26 games. As a freshman who started the season as a 17-year-old — and could have still been a high school senior — Lander struggled with the physicality of the Big Ten.
While his speed and game-sense were apparent in spurts throughout the year, Lander was never able to find his rhythm and become comfortable in his role, showing his youth and the learning curve associated with playing in the Big Ten.
“He's got to get a little bit stronger physically, but he possesses all the tools because he's quick with the basketball and changing direction and pushing it,” Woodson said. “That's what I mean by changing the game. He sees the floor pretty well, so I can't help but think sky's the limit for this young man. He just got he's got to be willing to work because he's got to be pushed in that area.”
As Woodson gets ready to enter his first summer as IU’s head coach, he said he’s excited for the challenges ahead and to build the program back up, one player at a time.
“I want them to give me an opportunity to coach them,” Woodson said. “I’ve always felt young man, if you give me an opportunity to coach you, you know, good things will happen.