Woodson’s first recruiting test will be Hoosiers in transfer portal

In his introductory press conference Monday, Indiana coach Mike Woodson was peppered with obvious questions about an NBA coach’s ability to translate his skills to the college ranks, especially as a recruiter.

But as soon as that press conference ended, the former New York Knicks assistant was set to embark on his first test in that regard. There are a half-dozen Hoosiers in the transfer portal, and it’s now Woodson’s job to convince some of them to stay in Bloomington.

“My first job is to sit down with each one of them and talk about staying in Hoosier Nation,” Woodson said. “And if I got to plead and beg a little bit to keep them here, I’m going to do that.”

What happens next will undoubtedly shape whether the transition to Woodson is more of a takeover or a complete rebuild. Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, while not in the portal, has the option of returning for another year or declaring for the NBA Draft. The Greenwood native’s return would immediately bolster IU’s frontcourt, and he told the Indianapolis Star that IU hiriing Woodson was “good” and he was interested to see what assistants would be brought in.

Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, the Indianapolis native, was the Hoosiers’ best outside shooter last season, connecting on 42.4 percent of his 3-point shots and averaging 11.4 points per game.

Along with Franklin, five others are sitting in the portal, including a gritty starting forward, Race Thompson, an up-and-coming point guard, Khristian Lander, and a high-ceiling wing, Jordan Geronimo. They entered the portal to give themselves a chance to start forming relationships with other coaches, just in case IU’s next coach wasn’t the right fit. Now they know who the coach will be, and it’s time to sit down, face to face, and discuss their futures.

Franklin and Jackson-Davis, in particular, are Indy-area natives and classmates who have valued playing at IU together. They will find themselves seated across a table from Woodson, a former Hoosier great, who seems more than open to bringing a good chunk of IU’s roster back.

“They have got to make the final decision on what they want to do, but there’s no better place in the country to play basketball, I think,” Woodson said. “That’s what I’m going to relay to them and let them know that I’m in their corner, that we’re family. I’m always going to have an open-door policy where they can come in and talk to Coach Woodson. I’ve never strayed from that.

“There’s a lot that I have to do once I leave this press conference in terms of sitting down with each individual player and having a pow-wow with them and see where their heart is.”

While it’s a small number, there are at least two players who seem set on remaining at IU, freshmen guards Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway. There was a meeting between Woodson and IU’s players on Sunday, and Leal, a Bloomington South alum, restated to The Herald-Times his commitment to the program.

“I’m really excited to play for (Woodson) and whoever else he chooses to add to the staff,” Leal said. “Based off the initial meeting, it’s very reassuring to know that he and I have the same goals and that is to win games and bring Hoosier Nation back together the way it once was.”

IU athletic director Scott Dolson said he felt the players on the men’s basketball team have been “resilient” in the face of change. He’s had two meetings with the full team via Zoom, as well as “several one-off conversations” to get a feel for what they wanted in a coach.

Woodson, himself, is still assembling a staff, and he said he has a list of candidates to pour over with Dolson and new associate AD for men’s basketball administration, Thad Matta. But at the very least, IU’s players have received a veteran coach from the NBA, with one decade as a player and more than two as a coach. 

“They talked about relationships (were) really important to them. They talked about skill development, and how that skill development can translate to the style of play we play, but also translate to playing at the next level,” Dolson said, “and the third thing they talked about was just a style of play overall. And, again, in my meetings with Mike, and talking to him, and then talking to several people I highly respected across the NBA and college basketball, Mike it just really felt like it was a great fit.

“He happens to be a great former player, which is nice, too.”

In the coming days, it will be known what current Hoosiers desire to join with a Hoosier great and try to lift IU men’s basketball out of mediocrity. After a 12-15 season, including six-straight losses to end the campaign, Woodson did seem to have an urgency about improving the mix.

He specifically mentioned watching some of the Hoosiers’ games this year, keeping in mind it was a strange season amid a pandemic.

“The pandemic hasn’t helped sort of their psyche and way of thinking in terms of college life here on campus,” Woodson said. “But I’ve got to assess, after going back today — and I’ll go and watch more film — I’ve got to assess after speaking with these young men, and get their feelings on this past season and what their thinking is on staying, or are they leaving. Because some decisions have got to be made if they decide to leave.

“But I’m going to do my best, put my best foot forward, to see that the guys I think can help us move forward in this program, that they stay on board.”

At the same time, this could be a busy transfer portal season, and Woodson is prepared for departures.

“Then I’ve got to go to Plan B and probably go in the portal and try to find players that I think fit the system,” Woodson said, “that can help us win basketball games here.”

27 comments

  1. After listening to his press conference, the question that arose was, “do any of the IU players in the transfer portal believe there’s a college coach out there who is better at developing a player’s skills and maximizing his talent than Mike Woodson?” So, after they meet and have their one-on-one conversations, if a player still wants to transfer, it’s not sour grapes to say that IU will probably be better off without them. On the other hand, I believe Woodson will discover a player or two who doesn’t fit and will be encouraged to transfer. An exchange of two players could immediately transform IU from a losing team to a team that wins big next season.

    Lastly, I predict IU’s returning players will be significantly better shooters next season. None may approach how good Woodson was in college, but one has to believe that he will teach them how to be better shooters. If any of them ever approach their new coach’s shooting ability, they’ll be stars in the Big Ten.

    1. Just make sure you don’t use false stats…like someone on here who claimed Justin Smith was developed better and shooting better under his new coach. The stats proved it to be untrue.

      And, of course, they’ll likely shoot the ball better…Many who will stay already have good mechanics. Another year builds familiarity and adjustment to the speed. Most shooters always improve during those adjustments (along with added time on the court). Archie had a very young roster. Their shooting would have improved if he had remained the coach. And it’s no simple job to change mechanics ….I knew Smith wouldn’t shoot the ball any better because he transferred. His lower body is the problem in his mechanics…Those habits go back years and aren’t fixed quickly. Some are coordination issues that may never be fixed.
      Our shooting woes were attributable to youth, time on court, confidence and adjustment to the speed and tenacity of the college game at the BigTen level. Ironically, the guys probably most likely to stay on the roster have the greatest problems in mechanics to fix (TJD, Brunk). Many college “bigs”…including 6-7, 6-8 smaller ‘bigs’ have the ability to shoot the long ball. We’ve been without said luxury forever. This isn’t the days of feeding everything inside for a sweeping Benson hook shot. Your bigs being able to move beyond 10 feet is far more important than freshman needing to grow into what are already very adequate shooting strokes simply needing minutes and confidence and game flow to adjust.
      Woodson needs to finds some bigs who are not brick throwers. TJD, Brunk, and Smith are all lousy beyond five feet….and Race Thompson ain’t much better. The backcourt just needed to grow up. Franklin had improved …but hit a setback because of injury in the toughest ending stretches of our regular season. Nothing wrong with the shooting mechanics in Galloway, Geronimo, Lander…Their improvements won’t have anything to do with Mike Woodson. I don’t have much confidence you’ll see great improvements in jump shots from the bigs….Their problems are “bigger” …as were Smith’s (no pun intended).

    2. Forgot to mention Leal…Correction:

      Nothing wrong with the shooting mechanics in Galloway, Geronimo, Lander and Leal

      Mechanics in most our guards is fine. Bigger problem? Don’t know how much you can teach speed. If you don’t have the speed to play at this new emerging college level (simply look at the far faster and controlled speed the current Elite Eight teams play at compared to Indiana). It caught nearly all of the BigTen off-guard. Oregon State, UCLA, Houston, Baylor, Arkansas, USC, Michigan, etc simply play at a pace that will always be challenging for some of our current Hoosiers. You can have all the great mechanics in the world but if they can’t match the pace with those mechanics , you will struggle. You will tire …Your athleticism won’t match the demands on defense and pace…Your shot making will consequently dip. Currently, most our top athletes can’t shoot at any pace…and most our better shooters don’t have the athleticism for the vastly evolving NBA-like college pace.

      Woodson has a lot to fix….And if future Indiana Mr. Basketball candidates couldn’t fit or play the pace of any of the remaining March Madness teams we’re currently watching, Woodson might want to reconsider …or simply use them as role players. We like to reminisce….but Mike Woodson would be on the bench for most of these teams because he couldn’t play at the furious pace. Loyola got eaten alive by Oregon State’s pace. Illinois was a different animal. Most remaining teams have length and athleticism eight to ten players deep…and CAN SHOOT THE ROCK. Villanova even looked lost….Justin Smith looks better (doesn’t shoot any better) and gets more clean-up, boards and dunks because he’s surrounded by athletes…and not Joey Brunk or slower probing guards (e.g. Phinisee).

      IU Basketball is in need of a paradigm shift….and look beyond the hometown sharpshooters, local sectional 2A heroes of Podunk H.S., etc.. This is the problem with reminiscing. Rick Mount would be Rick Molehill in this era of college basketball.

      1. ‘Crypt’, You are free to opine..but like everyone else, not free to remake history. Mount was 6′ 4″. He had a deadly shot. Like his IU earlier counterparts Rayl and Pavy,..there was no 3 point line. Had there been, their points totals in high school and college would have been about 20-25% higher.
        The Rayl/Pavey duel in New Castle which resulted in building the largest high school gym in the world. Rayl scored 49, Pavey (committed to IU then paralyzed before getting there) had 51. With today’s 3 pount line..,make that around 60-65 points. You seem to enjoy being a baseless provocateur, in addition to offering legitimate thoughts. Hmm?

  2. Random thoughts about latest news of Woodson’s hire:
    1. I’m surprised Woodson’s salary is only $3 million per year. Lot’s of bonus potential if he wins, but still, IU reduced the head coaching compensation from $3.9 for Archie to $3 million for Woodson. I wonder if Thad Matta’s $400,000 salary influenced that or if Woodson agreed to take less money so as to leave room in the budget for high quality assistants?
    2. Or maybe IU FB’s coaching compensation has finally been given priority in IU’s Athletic budget?
    3. Interesting that it seems as if IU’s youngest players are the most supportive of Woodson being hired.
    4. TJD would be a fool to enter the draft now. Woodson provides the best chance of transforming him from a 2nd round prospect to a first rounder. The difference represents millions of dollars in the short term.
    5. I expect Woodson will recruit at least one player from the transfer portal for next season. Maybe two players, but almost certainly one. And after next season, I suspect Woodson will use the transfer portal even more until he gets his HS recruiting up to speed.
    6. I’m relieved that Woodson didn’t talk about maintaining Archies’s “Inside-Out recruiting strategy.” I’m sure Woodson will recruit the state’s best players, but only if he believes they’re good enough to help IU win Championships.
    7. Woodson projected a quiet confidence and a presence that Archie never did. IMO, that will be very powerful in recruiting future players while motivating current players to embrace his coaching.

    1. Regarding 4., I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to be a fly on the wall during that 1 on 1. If Woodson didn’t say “You need to learn to use your right hand or you will have Spaulding tattooed on your tongue in the NBA” he did the kid a disservice today.

      The emphasis should be on adding a true, experience PG from wherever we can get him so that Lander can learn from him and get markedly better. Without that we still have Rob Phinisee at point and he’s more of a defensive guard than anything else. We need those too, by the way.

      1. The emphasis should be on adding a true, experience PG

        Hmmm? Where did I hear that before the season even began? No news is good news, I suppose.

  3. The “inside-out” recruiting isn’t the problem…AWinAZ alluded to the problem…It’s who you’re getting from the inside…and outside. Length, speed, athleticism…Can they play their h.s. game at a much faster pace…? Do the homework and don’t just get enamored with those who get selected for 2A trophies and Mr. Basketball. We’re picking Mr. Basketball in Indiana with a lot of the same criteria as 1970s….Great kids…Great students…Local heroes from hometown gyms. But our basketball is a giant “class” mess. Many of the top basketball attributes are being diluted because of the absence of our one class basketball system…The pace being played on many of the college rosters dominating March Madness doesn’t match our “blue ribbon” candidates like it did in our glory days. There are plenty of kids in Indiana who can play at the length and pace, but Archie was lured into the designations and titles which have lost some of their weight/meaning (in terms of basketball competitiveness at the highest college level).

    Watch the college product over the next two nights…You may not like it, but it’s here to stay. Most of the West and South is running us off the court. It’s much like BigTen football unable to match the speed of SEC football. And if you lack a bit of size, you still must have speed and pace.

  4. Po. agree with each of your points —- Except #2. Elite 8 and they can see Final Four in the distance, but obtainable. Ladies coaching staff need $ upgrade. Reward achievements.

  5. And off-topic a bit….But just look at the coaching differences and roster design differences in how a Kelvin Sampson basketball mind and roster sliced up the Syracuse zone like a masterful surgeon with a scalpel. It was a beautiful thing of exacting execution/operation to watch five on the floor continually adjust, fire the ball to the center, face the basket and find the openings. I have never seen Boeheim’s zone so dissected. It takes a strong X’s and O’s coach, athletes, unselfishness and pace. Athletes throughout the roster….and floor leadership (DeJon Jarreau). Even the great analysts of CBS had no belief in Houston’s ability to figure it out….All they could talk about was ‘Buddy Buckets’. I think all were baffled by just how disciplined and persistent Sampson’s team sliced up that zone…..and complemented it with even more tenacious defense.

    1. I know I’m heavily biased but I’ll take IU’s 1987 carve up of that zone over what Houston did any day. Not by coincidence that Knight has a pamphlet/book titled “Attacking the Zone”. Google “Bob Knight attack zone” and you’ll get all you ever wanted to know about exactly how to eliminate that.

      Too bad Crean wasn’t a student of such genius. We had 2 of the premier baseline players (Oladipo & Sheehey) & a big who was nimble and could shoot from the FT line & we looked like that 2-3 Syracuse zone was Ft. Knox.

  6. Exception granted…but without for a miracle shot, it’s 2-Banner Bobby. And what you put on the pages of a book can still be drastically different than how your team executes said designs. Crean could study that book and a BK set of encyclopedias for another 20 years and lose because he couldn’t calm down in a timeout or design a baseline out-of-bounds play.

  7. And in that regard, Woodson appears to be a guy not easily rattled. That’s a big plus …atop all the other positives we’re all hoping/anticipating. Crean was a disaster in tight games. Archie always looked like he was sweating invisible bullets. Neither exuded calm and confidence with the team. You are often a product of the huddle.

  8. People people people the nba game is played mostly with some exception in a “5 out” system you need guys who can shoot and or drive to the hole guys like rayce thompson,lander,galloway, and phinisee, leal all need to get in the gym and shoot 2 or 3 hundred three’s a day to improve to some degree,put at least 4 perimeter threats on the court at one time ideally thats what you want

    1. Lander, Galloway and Leal were freshmen. Not a ton of playing time. Nothing is wrong with any of their mechanics. They’ll shoot the ball just fine with more adjustment to pace and more comfort level with the tenacity/upgrade in competition.

      We need upgrades in athleticism, speed and length. We also need bigs who can do something beyond 3 feet from the basket.

      1. But is he practicing correctly? I have no idea, but I think Leal is going to find out pretty soon. If his shooting technique is flawed, all he’s doing is reinforcing bad habits. Golf pros emphasize that once you learn an aspect of the swing, you need to repeat it the right way until it becomes muscle memory.

  9. YES, money rains from clouds when there’s an overcast sky.
    Reality check:
    Woodson and staff
    coaching wins at IU = 0
    T. A. and staff football wins at IU = playing around 500 ball in his IU coaching era and 0 bowl wins but great role models and good image
    T. Moren and staff = NIT championship and elite 8 while taking over program that was bad on the fly and steady improvement and great role models and great image
    Conclusion: Rain some of that money on IU Ladies basketball program, T. Moren, and staff.
    Ron, realize there are those (though numbers are shrinking) that want to put discriminatory barriers of accountability on IU Ladies basketball without holding men’s basketball and football to any kind of even close comparable barriers of accountability.

  10. I think the real question is not who wants to return, but who Woodson thinks is good enough to play his style of basketball. As of right now, I believe Jackson- Davis and Franklin are the only sure bets. Next would be Lander, Stewart and Geronimo. I believe there are hundreds of transfers that Woodson will take a look at and weigh against the current players. Should make for an interesting next couple of weeks.

    1. I agree completely Hopeful, and I hope IU fans don’t get upset with Woodson if one or two of the players currently in the transfer portal actually transfer. He’s got to upgrade the talent on this team as soon as possible.

  11. The mark of a good coach is to recruit kids that can execute his desired style of play. One needs experience in order to do that…coaches in the dorm rooms driving home the do’s and don’ts outside of Cook Hall.

    The mark of an excellent coach is to optimize what can be accomplished with the kids he has and execute what they are capable of, morphing his style to his personnel. (Ref. Isiah Thomas in ’81, Smart & Garrett in ’87)

    It is not always possible to teach old dogs new tricks. By the time the kids get to college now they are “old dogs” having played approximately 80 high school games, God knows how many AAU games, club ball, Jr high etc…. a lot of games to develop bad habits that are hard to break & don’t translate. What may be horrible shooting technique in high school may work simply due to size discrepancies. You can get away with only having a left hand, for example. Bad habits increasingly lose effectiveness at the next level, and the level after that, and so on.

    1. I hear ya, AZ, but if these young men have the desire and the work ethic, they can still be coached up to make significant improvement in their skills.

      I won’t be surprised if one of Woody’s assistant coaches is known for being an excellent teacher of BB fundamentals, including shooting.

  12. Agree 100%….It’s why it was completely unfair to act like Archie could fix the horrible habits of those recruits he inherited. He should have been allowed a minimum 2-year mulligan. And I don’t think the circumstances of a cancelled March Madness last season and the roller coaster ride of the pandemic this year(including the abrupt transfer of Smith and season-long absence of Brunk), allowed for a fair evaluation of how well Archie could develop his own recruited talent. Water under the bridge now.
    But it’s a lot different to be a new coach coming out of this pandemic than a coach who inherited the uninspiring roster mess Crean left on the eve of a pandemic.

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