Every time the Indiana men’s basketball team takes to the court and goes to break the huddle, first-year head coach Mike Woodson has his players look up at the banners. Between five national championships and 22 Big Ten Championships, he wants the team to understand how much history the program has.
During Indiana’s annual preseason media day Monday, Woodson said even during his career from 1976-1980, there was a lot at stake. He said while former head coach Bob Knight comes up from time to time, winning championships is what he focuses on.
“Yes, that's Coach Knight hanging in the rafters, that's all they need to know,” Woodson said. “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.”
Woodson, who was hired March 28 after Archie Miller was fired, had his first opportunity to lead Indiana this summer in the Bahamas as they played a two-game series with Serbian professional club BC Mega.
Indiana went 2-0 on the trip, and Woodson said it was important for him considering it was his first time coaching at the college level after serving as a head coach for nine seasons in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks.
In addition to the players, Woodson said his staff needed the trip because they have just begun working together.
“I really didn't care if we won, but it was nice that we won,” Woodson said.
Freshman guard Tamar Bates said Woodson has led Indiana’s efforts to create a family atmosphere around the program.
Woodson brought on five new players to the roster this season — three transfers and two freshmen — and Bates said he brought in a great group of guys.
“Coming together as a group hasn’t been a problem for us at all,” Bates said. “This is a team where we all like each other, and it will show on the court.”
Bates took to the podium with preseason second-team All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis. The junior forward, who considered leaving the program when Miller was fired, said Woodson was the perfect leader for Indiana.
Woodson spoke about Jackson-Davis developing his jump shot this offseason, and that he’s been forcing him into positions to shoot it. Woodson knows Jackson-Davis can knock down jump shots and Jackson-Davis said he’s been working on his jump shot with Bates.
"I'm in the gym every night working on my jump shot,” Jackson-Davis said. “If they give me a jumper I'm gonna let it fly."
Woodson’s focus for this off-season has been getting players out of their comfort zone and helping them develop their games. He said when he got to Indiana, his coaching staff told him senior forward Race Thompson wasn’t able to dribble the ball up the floor or knock down jump shots.
Woodson squashed that talk, sayingit’s his job as a coach to get him to develop his game and start doing those things.
“My coaches, when I sat with them, they were like, ‘This dude's different,’” Woodson said. “I am different because I think out of the box. I want players to think out of the box.”
Thompson said he handled the ball and shot more in high school, so under Woodson it was about getting reacclimating to doing that rather than entering uncharted territory.
Thompson said talking to Woodson was exciting and that Woodson didn’t want to limit his game. He entered the transfer portal after Miller left the program, but was ultimately convinced to stay because Woodson called him almost every day.
“I don't know how you could say no to Coach Woodson," Thompson said.
Sophomore guard Khrisitan Lander, a five-star recruit coming out of high school, reclassified to forgo his senior year and join the Hoosiers early. Woodson said Lander is starting to step up now after a slow start this summer, and Lander said his confidence is up from earlier in the offseason.
“That’s up now and that’s really all I need is my confidence,” Lander said. “I think my work ethic and all that will take care of itself.”
Looking ahead to this season, Woodson said the team was ahead of schedule on the defensive end, but still had some work to do on offense. Woodson said he’s always put the defense ahead of the offense as a coach because having a solid defensive foundation gives the team a chance to win games.
He said the team needs to fine tune the offense ahead of its season-opener against Eastern Michigan University on Nov. 9.
“I'm — as a coach — sitting here today pleased where we are but knowing we got a long way to go,” Woodson said.
Hoosier fans will have the opportunity to see Indiana’s men’s and women’s teams for the first time this season at Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday. The event is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.