All recruiting rankings referred to in this column are from 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, unless otherwise stated.
It’s been just over two years since Mike Woodson was announced as Indiana’s next men’s basketball coach on March 28, 2021. The announcement caught some in the national media by surprise, with Gary Parrish asking the brave question: Did Indiana Pay to get Worse?
I won’t do the Clickbait Boyz the honor of linking their articles or Twitter profiles here, but the more ‘substantive’ criticism from that corner of the college basketball world came from Jeff Goodman, who was paid to ask whether then-63 year-old Mike Woodson would be able to recruit.
The first question - did Indiana get worse - was answered in short order when Woodson brought the Hoosiers to the NCAA tournament in his first year on the job. Something his predecessor failed to achieve in four years on the payroll as men’s basketball coach.
I would argue that he answered the second question, regarding his recruiting ability, right away as well. Trayce Jackson-Davis was as good as gone before Woodson was hired, then he was able to retain commitments C.J. Gunn and Logan Duncomb, Archie’s last recruits, within his first few weeks on the job.
Still, the fact that Armaan Franklin left, or more recently the Ledlum recruitment, or even how long Woodson has taken to fill his class of 2023 seems to have left the door open for debate on this topic.
Guys like Gregg Doyel piggybacked off the most successful Indiana season in half a decade to claim that Indiana had an uphill battle ahead of it next season. Losing guys like TJD and Jalen Hood-Schifino would be an insurmountable obstacle for Mike Woodson, so the argument went, and Indiana’s momentum from the last two seasons would, at least, be suspended.
With the commitment of Mackenzie Mgbako yesterday, I am here to say that we need to put this argument to bed. Once and for all.
In 26 months on the job, Mike Woodson has landed commitments from two of the three highest rated recruits since the 247Sports rankings debuted in 2009. His three consensus five-stars, JHS, Kel’el Ware, and Mackenzie Mgbako, already surpass the total number that Archie secured in his entire tenure.
Woodson isn’t just running laps around his predecessor, he’s also put the rest of the conference on notice. While a few people were up in arms when in-state five-star Xavier Booker announced his decision to Michigan State, Woodson has secured the only other Top-10 five-stars to join the conference since Romeo Langford in 2019. He’s gotten twice as many as Izzo in that time span.
In the era of 247’s recruiting rankings, Indiana has never had two five-star recruits on the same roster. Crean had some impressive classes, but the elite talent was spread across his tenure. When his teams were good, it wasn’t because of his ability to attract high-end talent, but his knack for developing under-recruited guys like Victor Oladipo or OG Anunoby.
There are unlikely to be any Anunobys or Oladipos in the Woodson era, with how he’s been recruiting, and that’s not a bad thing. Tom Crean got fired because he started counting on these guys too much after missing on five-stars. His last few recruiting classes had players who couldn’t even stick around at the D1 level after Indiana.
Out of the 79 players that Indiana has signed since 2009, the lowest rated Woodson recruit sits at 36. If Jakai Newton hadn’t gotten hurt his junior summer, Woodson probably wouldn’t have anybody sitting outside the top 30.
Fans may be frustrated with how selective Woodson is and how the classes, like the class of 2023, look a little thin heading into the summer, but the fact is that he’s raised both the floor and the ceiling for Indiana’s recruiting profile while retaining room for high-end decommits like Reneau and now Mgbako.
Next time you’re worried about a Woodson recruiting class at the end of the season, remember that in each of his three springs as head coach, he’s added a high end player from the top 30 of his recruiting class, at least. This spring was obviously much more productive.
Looking at the coverage of the Mgbako recruitment is instructive for understanding how Mike Woodson has been able to make Indiana a destination in such a short period. It’s no accident.
For one thing, Woodson was able to put Mgbako in touch with Carmelo Anthony, a first-ballot NBA hall of famer. For all the success Crean and even Knight had with player development, Indiana has never really had players of this pedigree vouching for its head coach.
Even former greats like Isiah Thomas have gone on the record to talk about how Woodson influenced him as a player and leader, preparing him for the 1981 title run that propelled him to the first round.
TJD and JHS earning invites to this year’s NBA draft means that Woodson will now have developed two college players, potentially both into first rounders, as the head coach at Indiana. TJD is an especially interesting case, as his draft stock skyrocketed in the last season when Woodson figured out how to better feature his talents on both ends of the court.
Another interesting note in the ESPN story linked above is that Mgbako references the NIL opportunities at Indiana. I repeat: In a recruitment where NIL was a major factor, Indiana just beat out Kansas (!!) and Duke (!!!!!) for a top ten recruit.
If there was any doubt as to whether Indiana’s fanbase would pony up to be an elite NIL institution, we can put those fears to rest with the Mgbako recruitment. Credit to the fans and NIL powers that be who helped make this happen, but I am happy to have Woodson and company navigating this new, unsettled NIL terrain with a competitive mindset and willingness to go out and beat the big dogs.
Finally, it’s worth considering what it means that these NIL and Carmelo Anthony anecdotes mean, especially on a story from ESPN. Indiana simply hasn’t been involved in many national recruitments of late, so having this information broadcasted across every meaningful media channel in the sport will only elevate the public perception of Indiana’s recruiting capabilities.
With a couple of games in Madison Square Garden scheduled and a teammate of Bronny James joining the roster next year in Gabe Cupps, Woodson has done everything he can to keep Indiana in the national spotlight.
Looking ahead to the class of 2024, Mike Woodson has already gotten five of the top 20 players nationally on campus. Now that they’ve seen multiple players of their caliber head to Bloomington for their college ball, the floodgates could open.
Indiana could very well be on its way to being back.