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When Indiana basketball travels to Atlanta to play Auburn it will be a homecoming



Indiana basketball
Dec 1, 2023; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson in the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. © Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK

Indiana basketball will face Auburn on Saturday in Atlanta for Holiday Hoopsgiving and the game will be a homecoming for several guys in the program.

Mike Woodson coached the Atlanta Hawks for six seasons, and his ties to Atlanta still run deep today.

“It means a lot. That’s where my head coaching career began, and I still have a home there, a lot of friends, people that supported me when I first started my journey as a head coach in Atlanta,” Woodson said about playing in Atlanta. “It was important that I take a game back there because I think for a lot of the people that supported me that were in my corner, they are still there, and that means a lot to me.”

Woodson’s first experience as a head coach wasn’t perfect, but he learned a lot and still has fond memories from his time coaching the Hawks.

“When I started that journey, I started out with 18, 19, 20-year-old young men that didn’t have a clue in what the NBA was about, and I didn’t have a clue as a coach because it was a struggle because we were so young,” Woodson said about his time coaching the Hawks. “But the beauty about that young team, from my peers, everybody kept saying, boy, you guys play hard. Boy, you’re competitive. But we just weren’t experienced enough to win games.”

One of Woodson’s favorite moments from his time in Atlanta was a playoff battle with the Boston Celtics after finally leading Atlanta to the playoffs.

“We grew together as a group, and we eventually broke the ice and got in the playoffs, and that’s when it all took off,” Woodson said Thursday. “We took Boston that year in the first round to seven games, and they ended up winning the NBA title, which that was the biggest thing for those young kids to experience because they hadn’t been in the playoffs. Once they got there, the media and everybody had us being swept and wouldn’t win a game. Hell, we forced a Game 7, which could have went either way. They ended up winning and then going on to win an NBA title.”

While Woodson’s contract with the Hawks was not extended after 2010, he still looks back at his time in Atlanta positively.

“Those were fond memories, to be able to take a team of young men and build it and have some success behind it,” Woodson said about his time with the Hawks.

Woodson is not the only coach with ties to Atlanta on the Indiana staff. Assistant coach Yasir Rosemond is from Atlanta and even coached for the University of Georgia before joining Indiana basketball.

Rosemond’s ties to Atlanta were likely a big help when recruiting Georgia natives Kaleb Banks and Jakai Newton. Rosemond was instrumental in both of their commitments as the lead recruiter.

Watch: Player Q&A: Kaleb Banks previews Indiana basketball matchup with Auburn

Banks didn’t think he would play in Atlanta while playing for Indiana basketball, so the opportunity to come home means much more to him.

“The game back home is just really cool for me. I mean I wasn’t expecting this, once I first found out we was going to play back in Atlanta I was real excited,” Banks said about his return home. “[I] never thought that would be a chance or opportunity here at IU to play on the south side, but I’m pretty happy about that.”

With both Banks and Jakai Newton now playing for Indiana basketball, the program has grown in popularity in the Atlanta area according to Banks.

“Indiana has become way bigger on the south side. Just people knowing me and [Jakai Newton] took a chance on Indiana and came here to play,” Banks said Thursday. “That just brings a lot of noise and attention to Indiana for other basketball players on the south side to see that Indiana is a real good team and if me and him go here, they’ll look into it as well.”

In his three years as head coach, Mike Woodson has managed to recruit two of the top players in the Atlanta area and the ties he and his staff have to the area have served as a big boost for Indiana basketball.

More: Mike Woodson previews Indiana basketball matchup with Auburn

Woodson has clearly emphasized returning to areas that mean a lot to him and the Hoosiers’ non-conference schedule is indicative of that.

Indiana basketball will play three games in NBA arenas this season and it is not hard to find the significance of all three locations.

The first of the three was the Empire Classic when Indiana traveled to New York to play at Madison Square Garden. Woodson coached there for three seasons when he led the New York Knicks from 2011-2014.

Indiana later played at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis where Woodson is from.

Now with their trip to Atlanta, Woodson will be returning to the location of his first head coaching job and a place that means a lot to him.

“I figure bringing a game back [to Atlanta] would be something special for the people that have supported me all these years,” Woodson said about the return.

SEE ALSO: ‘Indiana has the best front line in the Big Ten’: Indiana basketball set to face off with Auburn in résumé-building non-conference matchup

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Drew Rosenberg is staff writer for and hosts 'The Talkin' Bout the Hoosiers Podcast' covering Indiana University athletics. Drew is a senior, studying Sports Media and will graduate from the Indiana University Media School in the spring of 2024.