College basketball recruiting is weird.
Some players fit in a system, others don’t. Different conferences play different styles. Very loud fans (and donors, maybe) yell at the top of their lungs to Recruit The State even if those players don’t necessarily fit in the system.
We’ll never fully see what goes into recruiting, the nitty-gritty stuff that gets to a recruit to post that ever-coveted graphic onto their Instagram and Twitter accounts.
But we get glimpses here and there. Recruits talk about what appeals to them in interviews, some post about visits on social media and sometimes the head coach sends out a DM as a tweet.
Individually, these little glimpses don’t tell us a lot. But once you start putting things together, you’ll start to notice a pattern. One has emerged for Mike Woodson’s program at Indiana: developing players for the next level.
This wasn’t exactly a secret though. When the coaching search began last March, Scott Dolson said he wanted a head coach who could lead Indiana into the modern age of basketball. Hiring someone from the NBA will do that.
When every basketball media personality on the face of the planet wondered aloud about how a man who’d never coached college basketball would recruit the answer was staring them right in the face and its name was Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Jackson-Davis was pretty much set on entering the NBA Draft after Archie Miller was fired, but took a meeting with Woodson to see what the new man in charge had to say. He both liked and didn’t like what he heard.
Woodson, obviously, knows how the NBA works. He knows what coaches and front offices look for in prospects. He saw that in Jackson-Davis, but not enough. Not yet at least.
He told Jackson-Davis everything he was doing wrong. Not to bring him down, push him out, but to tell him that these are fixable issues. The kind that Woodson would wanna help him fix. That’s what sold Jackson-Davis on another year.
The same thing probably happened with Race Thompson, who said that he trusts Woodson’s abilities as a developer in a statement provided to the media.
Race Thompson, in a release, on his return to Indiana: "I trust Coach Woodson and his plan for me to develop into the best player I can be to take my game to another level." #iubb @ids_sports @idsnews— Tristan Jackson (@Trist_Jackson) April 14, 2022
Fast forward to now. Malik Reneau, who recently decommitted from Florida, was on an official visit yesterday, April 16. Reneau took a video of Assembly Hall during his visit, where a large graphic with the words “Pros are made here” was displayed on the jumbotron.
Literally every program is gonna advertise something like that. A “Look who’s been here and how far you could go!” kind of message, but Indiana has the advantage of a coach who’s been there and done that in the NBA.
I mean, remember when Woodson was first hired and the Knicks held a big goodbye ceremony while players lined up to give him a big hug and thank you? Free advertisement to recruits around the country.
Woodson is in Bloomington first and foremost to win basketball games, but he’s also here to develop players for the next level. The kinds of things recruits dream of.
NBA draft prospects tend to be pretty good basketball players, and that certainly helps win games.
The one downside is that the rest of the conference needs to catch up to this kind of mindset.
The Big Ten isn’t luring top talent like it used to, just look at all zero McDonald’s All-Americans who wanna play here. Michigan had the right idea a few years ago when the Wolverines hired Juwan Howard, and it looks like Indiana caught onto that trend.
The Wolverines have been the best Big Ten team in the past two NCAA Tournaments because that’s what they were built for. The rest of the conference will compete for Big Ten titles with their giant, just big centers before an early exit in March while Howard and the Wolverines keep dancing.
Woodson has a plan to get there too, that much is clear.