In his first two months on the job as Indiana men’s basketball coach, Mike Woodson has familiarized himself with his roster, re-recruited his inherited players, hired a staff, navigated the transfer portal, installed new team rules, and injected personality into a program that, for at least the past four years, lacked it.
All that’s left now is to get started on the court.
“I’m just anxious to get to June 10,” Woodson says.
That all-important date on the calendar, Woodson’s first opportunity to see his entire 2021-22 team on the floor together, is still a week away. But Woodson is eagerly counting down the days, knowing that the foundation for what everyone in Bloomington hopes will be a resurgent, encouraging season will be laid in the coming weeks.
“You never know what you got until you put them on the floor and start doing drills and giving them schemes and things of that nature on both ends of the floor,” Woodson said. “My biggest hurdle is how quickly can they pick it up? You just don’t know until you get out and start practicing.”
Woodson has talked about his desire to play a 4-out offensive system while also installing some hard-nosed, albeit simplified concepts on the defensive end. Right now, he thinks he has some individual skill sets he can work with, though he knows the coming days will offer a more complete picture of who can handle specific tasks inside his program.
Without the benefit of one-on-one instruction to this point, Woodson has relied on film breakdowns with his staff to learn how each player looked last season and identify areas where his Hoosiers might be able to grow. For instance, he’s closely studied Rob Phinisee’s game to see how the point guard directed the offense and how Phinisee might improve under a different set of instructors. Woodson has also spent plenty of time breaking down the strengths of Trayce Jackson-Davis. The coach already knows how he plans to help the All-American address deficiencies, something Woodson addressed with Jackson-Davis during their initial meeting. Recently, Woodson has dedicated time toward studying all the other angles of Jackson-Davis’ game and how he’s become the player that he is.
“We’ve been having coaching meetings trying to map out what I want to do and get my coaches more familiarized with what I’m doing,” Woodson said. “... (There’s) a lot of things that I’m looking at in terms of trying to figure out who can do what and who can’t do what and things we are going to have to teach moving forward.”
One of those things? Three-point shooting.
The departures of Armaan Franklin (Virginia), Al Durham (Providence) and Jerome Hunter (Xavier) mean that IU will be without the only regulars who shot better than 30% from 3-point range last season. Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp, who shot nearly 40% from beyond the arc two seasons ago, should help in that regard, just as UT-Martin transfer Parker Stewart should be able to give Indiana some more — and much-needed — assurance on the outside.
From there, Woodson knows there’s work to be done with the rest of the crew.
“I like everybody to be able to make 3s,” Woodson said. “I think (South Florida transfer Michael Durr), the big center, can make 3s, to be honest with you. But I think Miller was a guy that we had to address because I think he can play the 2, 3, and 4 at his size. He possesses a weapon in being able to shoot the long ball. I think (incoming recruit) Tamar Bates has shown he can make it, but now you got to show me you can make it at the next level.
“(Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson) is more of a streaky guy. He is more in between the 3-point line — and I didn’t bring him in as a knock-down 3. We are going to work with (Race) Thompson as we go down the road because he’s going to have an opportunity to step out and be in that position to make shots. Same with (Trey) Galloway and guys like that. Phinisee is streaky in his shooting, but these are things we all got to work on. This is our team as we move forward, and we are going to have to put the time in on the floor in terms of shooting the ball.”
In the meantime, Woodson is still getting to know not only his players’ strengths and weaknesses but their personalities, too. There’s a new rule at IU’s Cook Hall training facility, where no one is allowed to spend time in the first-floor locker room without dropping by Woodson’s corner office on the second floor to say hello and shoot the breeze.
“When they come in to work, they’ve got to stop by and see me first so we can chat,” Woodson said. “(I want to) see how their day is going and what’s going on in their lives. That’s important to me. I think it helps me from a bonding standpoint even before we hit the floor running.”
And make no mistake, Woodson is ready to start running.
“It’s a lot of work that has to be done, man,” Woodson said.