Indiana men’s basketball should not endure a slow build, going after the good, solid recruiting prospects as it makes its way up the ladder to the great ones year after year before finally approaching the elite.
The Hoosiers shouldn’t limit themselves. They deserve to be at the table with the country’s best high school basketball players year in and year out. This is Indiana. Winner of five national championships. If it wants to be treated as one of the best programs in the sport it needs to act like one.
At least, that’s what Mike Woodson thinks.
Woodson’s Indiana program took a big recruiting swing in the class of 2024. A swing that is still actively in progress. The Hoosiers targeted and played host to more top-100 recruits than any other time in program history.
There’s a lot of reasons for this swing, and the five biggest ones hang over Woodson’s head on gamedays at Assembly Hall. He only returned to Bloomington to bring the program back to national contention.
The Hoosiers want titles, the kind that take serious, high-level talent to win. Woodson, at the age of 65, doesn’t have all the time in the world to get there. He’s said it himself.
“I can’t sit here and say, look, I’ve got to wait — I don’t want to wait,” Woodson said at the program’s media day. “My clock is ticking. I want everything this year.”
Liam McNeeley provides some proof of concept for Indiana. This was the first true long-term elite recruitment of the Woodson era in Bloomington. Jalen Hood-Schifino’s recruitment came together quickly, this was something new to Bloomington in the current era.
And Hood-Schifino should be noted as Woodson’s first recruited, coached and developed NBA talent. Time will tell how his professional career ultimately turns out, but the story of how he got there will remain the same.
Throughout his recruitment, Hood-Schifino said he wanted to run the point in college. Woodson granted that, saw him score 35 points against rival Purdue on the road then win Big Ten Freshman of the Year en route to a first round NBA Draft selection.
Hood-Schifino has been more than happy to sing Woodson’s praises, noting that promises made to him were kept. He’s even already visited campus to sign Indiana’s alumni wall.
Indiana hasn’t gotten a commitment like McNeeley in the way it played out, long-term, in quite a while. With the first domino down, the Hoosiers have momentum moving forward with the rest of the class
But it’s not like Indiana would’ve absolutely fallen apart in the event of a whiff given all the time and resources they invested into 2024. This is the age of the transfer portal, where a roster can be flipped and pieces added in a single offseason.
If Indiana missed out, they can fill roles in the portal. With the recruitments of Malik Reneau, Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako in mind, Woodson has shown he can work well in a short timetable.
Woodson got his multi-year players early on, landing guys like Gabe Cupps, Jakai Newton, Kaleb Banks, and C.J. Gunn that can take on bigger roles as they age. Keeping these guys on the roster and bought in would not be possible if they felt they had no path to playing time.
With the foundation in place, it’s time to add the high-end talent that Woodson has been targeting in the classes of 2024 and 2025.