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‘It’s going to be my job to bridge the gap’: Mike Woodson’s vision for Indiana basketball is coming to life



Mike Woodson wanted to bring all generations of Indiana basketball together and thus far, he's doing just that. (Mike Woodson - @MikeWoodsonNBA / Twitter)

When Mike Woodson took the Indiana basketball head coaching job in 2021, he didn’t mince words.

His goal for the program was quite clear. Win and bring back the ‘Indiana family’ that had been missing for quite some time.

How would he do that? For starters, it was ‘bridging the gap’ between generations young and old. Fans who grew up seeing three National Championships in a nine year span have now gone 36 years since a new banner has been added to Assembly Hall. For young fans, they haven’t seen an Indiana team in a Final Four since 2002. As a matter of fact, since that last Final Four, they’ve seen more NCAA Tournaments without Indiana involved (11) than with the Indiana basketball program in the tournament (9).

So, it wasn’t an easy path forward for Woodson, but one that he was going to make sure would happen.

“It’s going to be my job to bridge the gap between young people who don’t know who coach Woodson is and the old-timers who don’t know who I am. I’m going to bring all the old-timers back like the old days, and we going to bridge the gap between old and new,” Woodson said in March of 2021 at his introductory press conference. “At the end of the day, it’s about two people or two things, and that’s the fans and our basketball program and our players.”

After back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances — after five years without an appearance — Woodson has the program back heading in the right direction.

So for now, goal number one is heading in the right direction.

For number two, well he’s doing exactly what he said as well.

The ‘bridge the gap’ phrase that Woodson explained two years ago has resulted in numerous former Indiana players back in Bloomington as part of the staff or his advisors.

It started with Randy Wittman who has been a  non- official staff advisor to Woodson since he returned to Bloomington. Then, last year it was Jordan Hulls who returned as the Recruiting Director. He acts as a a valuable member of the on-campus recruiting efforts as well as a de-facto fourth recruiter if and when Woodson is not on the road at recruiting events.

Then, earlier this week it was announced that Calbert Cheaney was returning. After numerous years on the Indiana Pacers staff, Cheaney is returning as Director of Player Development.

So why is there a major uptick in the Indiana basketball family returning? Well it’s simple — the love and passion for the program. And, the shared vision they have with Mike Woodson.

“I have nothing but love and passion for this program and I can’t wait to return and start working with our players and staff,” Cheaney said. “Helping them get the most out of themselves is something that I enjoy and brings me great satisfaction when they see their work pay off on the court.”

“Indiana University has been a part of me my whole life and I couldn’t be more excited to come home and work with Coach Woodson, the entire staff, and our players in the program. The relationships built during my time at IU with my teammates, coaches, and community helped shape me into the person I am today,” Hulls said upon taking the position. “… For me, it was something that if I was going to give it (professional basketball) up, it would have to be for a situation to come back home, that is really the only way that I’d ever do that… For me, this was something I couldn’t pass up.”

Not only was it an easy answer for Cheaney and Hulls, it was also an easy decision for Woodson.

“Anyone you talk to who has spent any amount of time with him has the utmost respect for him,” Woodson said of Hulls. “With his experiences, I believe he can be a tremendous asset to our players and staff and we are excited for he and his family to come back home.”

“Our players can ask him, how do you become successful when you get to college?  What can I do to help my team win championships? What do I need to do to be an All-American or National Player of the Year?  How did you become a first round draft pick who played 13 years in the NBA,” Woodson added of Cheaney.

The gap hasn’t ended there though.

After two decades of absence and a strained relationship between the Indiana basketball program and its legendary coach Bob Knight, his return to Assembly Hall in 2020 was a nice homecoming.

But since then, Knight has come around more … and more. He has been a frequent visitor at practices over the last two years.

“All I can talk about is the days when Coach Knight was here and how you know, he had everybody come back every year, and that was a beautiful reunion, man. I miss those days. And I’m going to bring those days back because I think it’s important,” Woodson said. “A lot of these old-timers, they probably look at me as an old-timer. We laid the groundwork for where we are today and those players should never, ever be forgotten and in my heart they won’t ever be forgotten.”

A reunion is something that Woodson has been working on ever since he took the head coaching job.

While reunions typically don’t take place everyday — that’s what he’s currently building in Bloomington. Some of the most recognizable former Hoosiers are now back and here to stay.

They’ve been winners wherever they’ve been. Now, it’s about making sure that they can ‘tie it all together’ and bring Indiana basketball back to its historic roots.

“Mike certainly gives us a bridge to our past. But more important than what he did as a former Hoosier player, he’s someone who shares my vision for what Indiana Basketball is about, and I’m thrilled about what this day means for our program,” IU Athletic Director Scott Dolson said at Woodson’s introductory press conference.

“At the end of the day, I’ve been chosen to be the coach here,” Woodson said. “I’m going to try to tie it all together to make it all work, and we all be one big family and win basketball games.”

SEE ALSO: Indiana basketball leaning on ‘untapped potential’ next year. But, there’s an excitement that comes with.

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 


‘I think we are getting into more of what coach Woodson wants’: Former IU basketball player Christian Watford discusses Hoosiers offseason



Former IU basketball player Christian Watford discusses the Hoosiers and their roster additions being perfect fits for Mike Woodson. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar-USA TODAY NETWORK)

The IU basketball program is going to look quite different in 2023-24. Following the loss of seven players — four starters — from last year, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson has done a total overhaul with his roster.

Headlined by the departures of Jalen Hood-Schifino and Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana now ushers in a new era of basketball in Bloomington.

Indiana was left with a total rebuild of its roster. The first aspect was what style of play Mike Woodson would want next year.

“Trayce Jackson-Davis is the first center that I’ve ever coached in my career where I had to utilize my center as a post-up player,” Woodson said last year. ” … it’s the first time in my coaching career that I’ve had to coach a young man starting out on the block and expanding his game. I don’t know where we’re going to be next season in terms of how our style of play will be. But we’ve got to get better. I do know that.”

After two years of building the roster that he wants through his first two recruiting classes and now another massive haul in the transfer portal, we’re getting closer to see a true Mike Woodson team.

On the ‘Ball From Assembly Hall’ Podcast, former IU basketball player Christian Watford thinks this will be the year that shows a true Mike Woodson team.

“How different this IU team is going to look. How different he culture is going to be. How different the style of play is going to be. I think we are getting into more of what coach Woodson wants. Which is an athletic team, a big long rangy athletic team,” Watford said.

Indiana not only returns Xavier Johnson in the backcourt, but also brings in two McDonald’s All-American’s. One is former five-star and Oregon transfer Kel’el Ware in the front court, while the other is 2023 five-star Mackenzie Mgbako.

“The talent level just wasn’t there coming off of last year … Now you look at what they’ve been able to put together, you have two five-stars with Mgbako and Kel’el Ware. You have the bench production now with Payton Sparks and Anthony Walker. You get a massive win getting Xavier Johnson back. Everything they have been able to do over the last 30-45 days has now set themselves up for — now expectations going into next year, of something where you don’t drop off as much as it could’ve been going into next year,” HoosierIllustrated owner Alec Lasley said earlier this offseason. “… It was massive in what you’re trying to build in what is a bridge year and a gap year from the Trayce Jackson-Davis era to the 2024 and 2025 classes.”

The Hoosiers have one scholarship still open for the 2023-24 season. That final spot likely needs to be from a shooter. Indiana shot 36.8 percent from three this past season but ranked 353rd nationally in attempted 3s per game (15.5) and 334th in made 3s per game (5.7).

“We are building right now. We aren’t going to have a team where you can just throw it into the paint and I think that’s good for Indiana basketball,” Watford added. “On paper, we don’t have the shooting we need, but as far as the athleticism, us being able to guard, us being able to play with force and still play in the paint, I think we still have those components.”

Below is the full episode.

SEE ALSO: IU basketball leaning on ‘untapped potential’ next year. But, there’s an excitement that comes with.

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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Watch: Workout highlights and interview of Indiana basketball sophomore center Kel’el Ware



Kel'el Ware - DraftExpress - Offseason Workout - Interview - 5/29 - Credit: DraftExpress - Jonathan Givony

Indiana basketball hit the near transfer portal lottery when they were able to secure the commitment of Oregon transfer center Kel’el Ware.

While the the 2023-24 Indiana basketball team will be leaning on ‘untapped potential’ next year, Ware is projected to play major role in Mike Woodson’s frontcourt next season.

Ware, a former five-star and McDonald’s All-American, spent one season with the Oregon Ducks where he averaged 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He played in 35 games with four starts in 15.8 minutes a game. He was sixth in the Pac-12 in total blocks.

Ware comes in looking to be one of the post options for Indiana to help replace the production that is lost with the departure of Trayce Jackson-Davis for the NBA.

Ware fits the style of big that Mike Woodson wants in his system as he is extremely athletic with great length and size. He can defend the rim at a high rate while also being able to stretch the floor on the offensive end, something that Indiana has not consistently had the past few years.

“Kel’el is an extremely gifted player who will bring a lot to our program,” said Indiana head coach on the addition of Kel’el Ware. “He is a tremendous athlete whose skill level in all facets of the game will make us better. He’s a rim protector with great size and length, he runs the floor so well, he can shoot and he’s someone who competed and won at a high level in high school.”

Below are highlights of Indiana basketball sophomore center Kel’el Ware getting an offseason workout in plus an interview with Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony.

SEE ALSO: Five questions the Hoosiers answered this offseason

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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Indiana Basketball: Jalen Hood-Schifino should ‘blow away teams’ during pre-draft process



Former Indiana basketball standout freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino should 'blow away teams' during pre-draft process. (Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Jalen Hood-Schifino had a phenomenal freshman season with the Indiana basketball program — one that was ‘nothing short of amazing’. The 6-foot-4 guard is now slotted to go late in the lottery to mid-late of the first round of next month’s NBA Draft.

With the NBA Combine come and gone, Hood-Schifino is set for the next chapter in his basketball journey.

The question is no longer if he can make it to the next level, but when he’ll hear his name called.

“I think JHS is a very smart player that should blow away teams that get to spend time with him during the pre-draft process,” an anonymous NBA Scout told “Wherever a team had him April 1, it will only improve as their process goes along.”

Hood-Schifino was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season as well as All-Big Ten Second-Team. He averaged 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this season.

The talented point guard showed the ability to play both on and off of the ball this season for Indiana. He was best, however, with the ball in his hands and in attack mode.

That’s something that caught the eye of scouts.

“I had major concerns with his ability to put pressure on the defense with his lack of scoring initially, but it was encouraging to see him continue to improve in that area as the season wore on,” the anonymous NBA Scout added.

Coming to the Indiana basketball program from national-power Montverde Academy (Fla.) where he won two national championships, the mentality of being a winner was there.

The success he had in high school never wavered when he got to Bloomington. In fact, it continued to blossom.

“It’s something I saw in high school, and high school is not college,” IU head coach Mike Woodson said about the mentality of Jalen Hood-Schifino. “Once he got here, you could see how he approached things on and off the floor, his demeanor.”

“The IQ, leadership and playmaking are clearly there,” the scout added.

His competitive and winning nature is appealing to many NBA teams.

The biggest knock on Jalen Hood-Schifino, however? Some ability to defend quicker and smaller guards. While it’s not a major concern, it’s something that scouts are saying is an area that will be his biggest weakness.

“One area I took for granted would be a strength coming in to the year was his defense and it seemed he had trouble keeping quicker guards in front of him at times,” a scout said. “I could see him initially being paired with an undersized shooting guard that can guard 1’s to keep him on the wings.”

One thing is for certain. Hood-Schifino has been preparing for this moment for his entire life. From a mentality standpoint, he’s been prepping to be a ‘pro’ since he arrived at Montverde three years ago.

Now, it’s time for all of that hard work to pay off … and it will.

The NBA Draft will take place on June 22.

SEE ALSO: Jalen Hood-Schifino ready for NBA: ‘I will never shy away from the bright lights or the moment’

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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