Since Mike Woodson took over as Indiana’s head coach this spring, it has become clear that a new culture will be one of the driving forces behind the program. The first few months of Woodson’s transition to Indiana went almost smoothly, during which he quickly established his laid-back nature and upbeat personality, a contrast to the show’s recent past.
It was displayed again on Friday’s Zoom call. Some sound clips:
“Opening statement?” Woodson said with a pause. “I don’t need to introduce myself.
Later, after noting that freshman Tamar Bates added 12 pounds this summer: “It’s a bonus because he was still very light in the butt.”
Indiana was often criticized last season for playing without enough energy and sometimes struggling to get through games. “I feel like we’ve been in the dark for a while,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said in a revealing comment at the end of last season. “There was no energy.
While this offseason is extremely important for Woodson to get his plans off the ground, it has also been an opportunity to revitalize the culture and steer the program in the right direction. And now it already looks like Woodson’s energy is reflected in his players, ushering in a different vibe to the program as a whole.
After a training session with Clif Marshall in July, the whole team jumped into mosh of jubilation. Then Marshall crouched down and started to clap his hands, which the others followed.
One day in the locker room, Miller Kopp was showing Parker Stewart a magic trick. After Stewart chose and handed over a card, Kopp rummaged blindly through the deck. At the end, Stewart turned over a card, which was indeed the one he had chosen, and there was a cry of “oh hell nah As the players exploded in a mixture of excitement and disbelief.
Then, during Friday’s Zoom, Jackson-Davis put bunny ears behind Race Thompson as he answered a question.
“That’s all you can ask for from a coaching standpoint, these are players who come to the gym with energy and happy to be there and to work,” said Woodson. “Because that’s what it’s going to take to get back to the top.”
Besides asserting his coaching style, the summer has been busy for Woodson in other ways.
For the first time in his career, he was recruiting on the grassroots recruiting circuit. Some days he was in the gym from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then hopped on a plane to the next destination, a destination that finally paid off with Kaleb Banks‘ engagement. At one point in the summer, Woodson saw his former player Carmelo Anthony.
“I had a great time there,” said Woodson.
There was also a lot of work being done on the pitch with his team at Bloomington. Despite all the talk about fluid offense in the offseason, Woodson’s focus this summer has been on defense and conditioning. He trained the players on defensive rotations, on how to aggressively play the pick-and-roll and apply pressure to the ball.
“I really believe that if we can put our hat back on the defensive end and bounce the ball back, we’ll give ourselves a shot at winning every game,” said Woodson.
Woodson offered his assessment on the performance of various players over the summer. On Parker Stewart, Woodson said, at one point, “he was probably the best player in the gym.” He praised Kopp’s shot.
But the two most frequently mentioned players were Jackson-Davis and Rob Phinisee.
Woodson said he saw a lot more confidence in Phinisee, who looked more “relaxed” and “at ease”. During the offseason, Phinisee started reading “Intentional Mindset – Developing Mental Toughness and a Killer Instinct” by Dave Anderson. He said he felt comfortable with Woodson’s system, with the ability to create for others in a larger scheme.
“I feel like a lot of people looked to me and forgot how good I was,” Phinisee said of her inconsistent junior season. “Just being able to be confident, to have the floor open, I can play my game. Show my skills like I did earlier in my career.
Overall, Woodson has worked with Phinisee’s point guard, Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson and sophomore Khristian Lander with an emphasis on the mental aspect, in hopes of teaching them how to lead a team effectively. .
“The new coaching staff has really given me confidence,” said Phinisee. “Just to continue to be a leader.”
And then there’s Jackson-Davis, last season’s All-American, who is Indiana’s headliner this year and, according to Woodson, the starting lineup’s only lock. Woodson said he saw Jackson-Davis play more aggressively than in the past. Additionally, Jackson-Davis said he was in much better condition than last season.
The addition of the 7-foot USF transfer Michael Durr also pushed Jackson-Davis into the paint, something Indiana couldn’t do frequently last season due to a depleted frontcourt.
“I have to really work on my jump hooks and get the ball up and touch it around the rim, without being able to just force it,” Jackson-Davis said. “I think it’s been really good for both of us.”
Indiana’s first official test will take place next week with two exhibition games against BC Mega in the Bahamas. As the summer progresses, Woodson feels the team has progressed in a short period of time. Whether on or off the field, Woodson’s foundation is starting to show.
“From the moment he got here, just bringing the family aspect and that’s the big deal with him, he’s a family guy,” Jackson-Davis said. “He loves us all… He really means it.”
Filed to: Mike Woodson, Rob Phinisee, Trayce Jackson-Davis