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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

‘What a joke’: Indiana basketball’s Mike Woodson won’t talk job security. Tom Izzo will.

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At 2:37 p.m. March 10, Mike Woodson toted a black toiletry bag through the southeast tunnel of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, just under two hours away from tipoff against Michigan State. 

At 6:37 p.m., Woodson stood in front of Indiana’s bench, feet planted on the court, urging his team towards one more defensive stand. The Hoosiers, leading 65-64, were 14 seconds away from victory. 

At 7:37 p.m., Woodson sat behind the middle microphone on Indiana’s elevated podium, head shaking, face blank. He stared and began to speak, his face revealing a subtle, confident smirk. 

“Should never be any questions about my job based on what I have done here since I stepped foot in Indiana as a coach,” Woodson said. 

After making the NCAA Tournament in each of Woodson’s first two years, the Hoosiers trudged through much of the 2023-24 season, rendering the IU alum’s future temporarily uncertain.  On March 6, an IU Athletics spokesperson, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed to the Indiana Daily Student that Woodson will return as head coach next season. 

Still, external doubts about Woodson’s abilities remained — but in the hour between his huddle and press conference, several others stepped to his side. 

Indiana made the stop it needed, forcing a missed floater from Michigan State senior guard Tyson Walker, pulling down the rebound and running out the clock, securing its fourth consecutive victory. 

Less than half an hour after the game’s conclusion, Indiana guard Anthony Leal stepped to the microphone, poised to deliver his senior day speech. The Bloomington native hastily announced he’ll be using his additional year of eligibility and will be returning next season — and used the remainder of his speech to endorse Woodson. 

“I’ve got to make something very clear: adversity is part of sports, and for those of you who are so quick to give up and call for quits, there’s a reason you guys aren’t coaches,” Leal said. “So, relax. There’s no other coach in the country that I would trust with anything in my life than Coach Woodson.” 

After Leal gave up the microphone, fellow guard and Culver, Indiana, native Trey Galloway took over. 

“To Coach Woodson,” Galloway started, taking over 10 seconds to collect his thoughts. “I just want to thank you so much for believing in me for all these years. I really love you and I appreciate you so much, and I wouldn’t want to have any other coach other than you. So, I thank you so much.” 

As cheers reigned down during Galloway’s speech, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, seated in a white folding chair outside the Spartans’ locker room, went to bat for the job Woodson’s done this season. 

“I give Mike credit,” Izzo said. “This great profession I’m in, you know — mind boggling to me that Mike has won 18 games in a conference that is really difficult from two to 13, and somebody’s got to stick up for him coming back next year? What a joke, a joke, man — the administrators. What a joke.” 

Indiana’s development of sophomore center Kel’el Ware drew praise from Izzo, who coached against Ware during his freshman season at the University of Oregon. In that Nov. 26, 2022, contest, Ware recorded 17 points and nine rebounds — a solid stat line. 

But Ware faded down the stretch of his freshman season, averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds across 15.8 minutes per game. 

Now, Ware is flourishing in Bloomington. He led the Hoosiers in scoring, rebounding and blocks during the regular season, averaging 16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game en route to earning second team All-Big Ten honors. 

Ware capped the regular season by matching a career-high 28 points on 13-of-19 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds against Izzo and the Spartans. In Izzo’s eyes, the 7-foot center’s growth is a validation of Woodson’s abilities. 

“He did a hell of a job with Ware,” Izzo said. “Deserves a lot of credit. Played against Ware last year — he wasn’t very good. I think strength, I think he’s tougher and I think early in the year, he was okay. The last half of the year, he’s been a force to be reckoned with and I give Mike a lot of credit and Ware a lot of credit on that.”  

Hours after his return was initially cemented, Woodson twice refused to speak in depth about his job. He continued doing so after beating the Spartans, instead citing the resume he’s compiled in three years in Bloomington. 

Entering the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana is 62-39 under Woodson’s guide. The Hoosiers snuck into March Madness in 2021-22 before finishing runner-up in the conference and earning a No. 4 seed in the big dance in 2022-23. 

A feverish finish to this season has the Hoosiers at 18-13 overall and 10-10 in Big Ten play, good enough to hold the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament. It’s a down year relative to the program’s expectations, but Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes remain alive. 

Still, questions persist about Woodson’s leadership — but he doesn’t plan on responding to them anytime soon. 

“I'm not going to entertain questions about it because [there] shouldn't be anything out there floating around about my job,” Woodson said. “I've done my job and I'm going to continue to do it.” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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