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The joy is back

A personal essay on Indiana men’s basketball.

The Indiana student section celebrates during a timeout Feb. 4, 2023 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. The Hoosiers beat Purdue 74-79.
Alex Paul

As I was entering my senior year of high school pondering the changes to come and their ramifications, I wasn’t alone. Indiana University, the college I’d intended on attending since I was a child, had just hired a new head men’s basketball coach.

His name? Archie Miller.

Young guy, defensive focus. A few good tournament runs and about as far as you could get from his predecessor. It was a fun thought, I’d get to watch the first few years of the Archie era unfold as a student.

I grew up a fan of Indiana, crawling around the house in an trident onesie and begging my brothers, undergraduates or above, to let me visit them in Bloomington, which I considered the best city in the state (still do).

Fun is pretty low on the list of adjectives I’d use to describe the ensuing four years. The Crean years had their low moments, but the team was watchable at the very least. I can in no way say the same for what happened from 2017-21.

He got Romeo. Great!

They missed the Tournament. Not great!

Watching Indiana just wasn’t fun. The team had no clear direction and the all-forward offense got pretty tiring a few games into year one. As the years passed, I got into writing and joined the staff of the Indiana Daily Student. I was named as one of three sports editors for the Spring 2021 semester, working in shifts as articles came in from our staff.

It was remarkably easy to shift into the journalistic mindset, one of objectivity. The joy I’d previously had for Indiana was all but gone, buried by years of missing the tournament, missed threes and all five players seemingly in the paint at once on offense.

I was on shift the day Miller was fired, we’d already had an article ready and I’d literally selected the photo we’d use the day before just in case.

Then came the search, endless names with equally limitless accomplishments to their names. Thad Matta, Eric Musselman, Chris Holtmann (lol) Scott Drew... Brad Stevens. These were not realistic candidates, obviously, just “names to watch” and a guy that created a viral clip thanks to Boston Sports Radio.

The day started like any other, I picked up a sandwich to start my editing shift and headed back to my apartment. I got a news alert the second I sat down.

“REPORT: Indiana to hire Mike Woodson as head men’s basketball coach”


I ran to the IDS site and helped get an article up thanks to an amazing team of writers and fellow editors and spent the rest of the day just kinda thinking about it.

If you’d been around Indiana or basketball long enough, Woodson was a name you knew. Former Knight guy that went onto the NBA and a coaching career in the pros. Coached Melo. Not necessarily a name you were keeping a close eye on.

I mean, a Knicks assistant with past head coaching experience? None at the college level? How will that translate? How will he recruit?

When Scott Dolson set out for a new head coach, he specifically said he was looking for a candidate who embraced Indiana’s past and gave it a modern style to lead the Hoosiers into the future. We didn’t consider it at first, but Woodson checked those boxes better than anyone else.

Nobody knows Indiana’s past like a former player. Woodson doesn’t have to go on recruiting visits and explain what or even where Indiana is, that’s status and he knows it better than anyone. He’s worked with top pros in the NBA and knows what the league looks for in modern talent.

The fanbase was slow to accept it, but Woody seemed like Indiana’s guy.

Of course, it helps when you land a 5-star guard from a national high school basketball powerhouse who goes on to seal a win over your in-state rival, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

And that’s what this gets back to, the rivalry. Indiana endured loss after loss to Purdue for every single year of Archie Miller’s tenure in Bloomington. Some were close! Others weren’t. All went into the loss column.

It was gross, losing basketball and the fanbase was getting dangerously close to apathy from those outside of the diehards. The students? They obviously don’t remember the golden days, they just had Archieball.

So again, enter Woodson.

There was obvious joy from Indiana’s players, many of whom exited the transfer portal after hearing what the man had to say. Woodson came from a big family and values that environment, and he was here to turn the Hoosiers into family again.

And win some basketball games.

There have been moments, sure. I’d rather Indiana have a few more wins in general but right now? I do not care.

Indiana is playing basketball that’s fun. I’ve never seen Assembly Hall as electric as it was today, donut throws or not. And, importantly, they’re beating Purdue.

Indiana now has a home winning streak over the Boilermakers, and these are two of the best teams that Matt Painter (a very good coach!) has assembled in West Lafayette. Both have losses to Indiana on their resumes.

“Good” losses. Because Indiana is good.

I can watch Indiana again and have fun. I’ll always look back at the days of Vic and Yogi fondly, but for the first time since I got my acceptance letter, I’m hopeful.

go hoosier