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Things we learned from Mike Woodson’s 1st day on the job

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Former Hoosier legend discussed his vision, his hiring and more on Day 1

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Mike Woodson era is now one day old.

The former Hoosier was introduced as IU’s 30th men’s basketball coach on Monday, and here’s what we learned:

His first recruiting trip will be to the players locker room in Cook Hall. His second will be to the portal.

Woodson’s first objective as head coach is the most obvious one: re-recruit the players on the Bloomington campus.

That process started in earnest on Monday afternoon, as Woodson took time to start sitting down with his players for one-on-one meetings to get a feel for who they are and what they’re thinking. For Woodson, Plan A is keeping the guys who want to stay.

“We have a few players that have entered the portal, players that I think can help us win basketball game games next season,” Woodson said. “My first job is to sit down with each one of them and talk about staying in Hoosier Nation. And if I got to plead and beg a little bit to keep them here, I’m going to do that.”

Otherwise, Woodson’s Plan B is to start working the other side of NCAA free agency.

“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,” Woodson said. “But if not, 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 that can help us win basketball games here.”

He’ll prioritize defensive versatility and shooting

At IU, it sounds like Woodson wants long, rangy athletes who can play multiple positions, switch defensively, and knock down 3-pointers. Sounds great, right? Sure. That’s a huge part of the NBA game. Recruiting to those preferences will be Woodson’s most obvious challenge, albeit one he’s eager to meet.

“I think I can bring a system in that from a defensive standpoint where you know we can recruit players that are capable of playing three or four positions,” Woodson said. “That’s kind of how I did it in the pros. ... The 3-ball has changed the game, there’s no doubt about that. We have got to recruit players that can shoot the ball and pass and dribble be able to make plays for one another. And in doing that, I think I can create an offense that everybody touches the basketball and if you can shoot the basketball, then you're expected to shoot it and make shots. If you can’t shoot it, then you have to do other things to help us win basketball games. It’s my job to go out and put the best team positive I will on the floor that can do those things.”

He does not like Zoom

When Scott Dolson initially contacted Woodson to discuss the position, the IU athletic director asked if they could schedule a Zoom call. Woodson had no interest — in the teleconference, at least.

“I said, ‘If you’re interested in Mike Woodson, either I get on a plane or you get on a plane and you come see me,’” Woodson said. “And he said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow morning.”

Over the three-plus decades that Dolson has spent around Indiana’s basketball program, he had come to know Woodson as an acquaintance. But during that first meeting in New York this month, Dolson said he felt an instant connection while the two talked basketball philosophy and their shared vision for IU’s program.

“There are certain people you’re around that you feel like that you’re old friends with and it’s kind of hard to describe,” Dolson said, “but you know it when you see it.”

He didn’t know Thad Matta before this process started, but plans to lean on the former Ohio State coach for input and guidance

While flying home from his meeting with Woodson in New York, Dolson began picturing what a potential Woodson coaching era might look like in execution. Sure, Woodson knows how to coach at the NBA level. But Dolson wondered if, as athletic director, he might be able to provide some built-in support while Woodson acclimated to the college game and all that goes into it.

Enter Matta, IU’s newly-hired Associate Athletic Director for Basketball Administration, and Woodson’s soon-to-be right-hand man.

“My ego has always been intact in terms of being able to accept great basketball minds and what they are thinking,” Woodson said. “I think that’s healthy from a coaching standpoint and I think it can’t do nothing but help me as I move up the road and try to build this basketball team. I’m grateful that Thad is on board. Again we have to put a staff together and we’ll work towards that here in the next week or so.”

He has some candidates for his staff already in mind

Woodson’s phone has been flooded with calls and texts the past couple of days — and it hasn’t simply been a stream of congratulatory notes and messages. Although he did not name names or offer hints at potential hires, Woodson said several people have reached out expressing interest in joining him in Bloomington.

Over the next several days, Woodson, Dolson and Matta will discuss who might be a good fit.

“We will collaborate together and figure out what’s good for Mike Woodson and the Indiana University program moving forward,” Woodson said. “Coaching is important. I think you’ve got to put people around you that you trust, people around you that’s willing to work hard. That’s what I’ve done in my two stops as an NBA head coach. I try to put people that’s going to work and be loyal and help me to develop young players that’s going to be good basketball players and good people off the floor.”

He is a “normal person”

The most interesting line from Monday’s introductory press conference belonged to Dolson, who, in describing Woodson, also seemed to peel back the curtain on the new coach’s most recent predecessors.

“I had someone I really, really respect in basketball say to me, ‘We need someone that’s a normal person. We need him to fit in and collaborate and be part of a team,’” Dolson said.

Tom Crean, while he tried like hell to do things the right way and took immense pride in being the IU basketball coach, also tended to act tactically and defensively, rather than strategically. It undercut his ability to keep allies and execute a long-term vision. Archie Miller? There’s not much to say about the guy. He tried like hell to live in his Cook Hall bunker and keep the outside world at bay. Community engagement, alumni outreach, media — Miller seemed to have absolutely zero taste for any of it.

But in Woodson, Dolson believes he found someone who will embrace all aspects of running a program that can be as demanding as Indiana’s.

“I feel that Coach Woodson was a perfect fit as a person,” Dolson said. “The people I talked to had no idea who I was leaning towards, who was in the mix, — I’m talking about people all across basketball. To a person, they said there’s no better person than Mike Woodson as a person and had a meant a lot.”