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‘I’m expecting big things from him’: Mackenzie Mgbako critical piece to Indiana basketball in year one with program



Freshman wing Mackenzie Mgbako is the highest-rated incoming recruit for the Indiana basketball program since Romeo Langford in 2018. Because of that, expectations are high for the five-star and McDonald’s All-American.

Mgbako, however, didn’t take the conventional path to Indiana. In fact, Indiana basketball wasn’t even his initial choice when attacking his recruitment. Mgbako originally committed to Duke before re-opening his recruitment in the spring. That’s when Indiana arrived at the forefront of his recruitment, all thanks to … his mom.

“My mom reached out to coach Woodson and the rest is history,” Mgbako said at Indiana basketball media day last week. “The coaching staff was very genuine in what they were telling me. Indiana was just the best place for me.”

Yes, that’s right. Mgbako’s mom was the one who initiated the conversation with Indiana. That led to a visit and a commitment shortly after. It was a much-needed pledge for the Hoosiers, a program looking for additional talent after rebuilding its roster this spring.

Now, heading into year one in college, Mgbako is already labeled as a potential one-and-done prospect and is slotted in numerous 2024 NBA mock drafts as a late first round selection. Because of that, there’s an expectation that Mgbako will not only play a large role, but he will also play a critical one for Indiana.

“Only time will tell. He’s capable of putting the basketball in the hole. He’s shown that this summer. We’ve got to help him as coaches and put him in the best position possible to be successful and help us,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said. “I’m expecting big things from him, but I’m not putting a lot of pressure on him. He’s a freshman.”

“To be honest there’s not much you need to tell Mack,” IU senior guard Xavier Johnson said. “He’s a young guy. He’s experienced in an experienced league in high school. He played against good players in high school, as well. He’s one of the top recruits, like you said. He’s coming along pretty well, though.”

As a senior at Roselle Catholic (NJ), the 6-foot-8 wing averaged 16.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He was also part of the Nike Hoop Summit and had 22 points and eight rebounds for the World Team.

Related: ‘He brings this grit and aggressiveness’: What Mackenzie Mgbako’s Indiana basketball teammates said about him after summer workouts

Right when Mgbako stepped on campus this summer he stood out. His versatile skillset is exactly what Mike Woodson has emphasized from his wings.

“He has the chance to have an immediate impact on our program,” Woodson said when Mgbako signed. “He’s a tremendous offensive player who gives us athleticism, length and the ability to be an inside/out threat.  He can beat people off the dribble, rebound, run the floor and guard multiple positions.”

But, is there too much pressure on the freshman to deliver right away? He doesn’t think of it that way.

“I only feel pressure if I put it on myself, so if I keep the right head space and focus what I’m supposed to (focus on), there won’t be any pressure,” Mgbako said. ” … My expectations are to play without any — just to play free. Play within what coach gives me and just be who I am as a player.”

Mgbako is part of a critical incoming class for Indiana that includes three freshmen and three transfers. In total Indiana lost seven rotational players from a season ago, including four starters. With six new faces on the roster, Mike Woodson knows there’s a learning curve and a bit of a puzzle he needs to piece together.

Regardless, he knows Mgbako is a large piece to that puzzle.

“I think when you’re building a basketball team, you’ve got to reach out and get a little bit from everybody,” Woodson said. “The freshmen that were freshmen last year that are sophomores, they’ve got to step up and play like sophomores, and juniors that are seniors like X (Xavier Johnson) and (Trey) Galloway, they’ve got to give us more. Sophomores got to give us more. There’s a lot that’s got to be done between now and the time we step out on the floor against Marian and start playing actual basketball.

“But, Mackenzie is a big part to the puzzle. That’s why we went and recruited him.”

SEE ALSO: ‘I want to win now’: Mike Woodson is done accepting mediocracy. He’s ready to take Indiana basketball to new heights.

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.