BLOOMINGTON — Darrell Walker worked alongside new Indiana men’s basketball coach Mike Woodson for three years as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks.
When Woodson was head coach of the Knicks from 2012-14, Walker said it was common to see the former IU and NBA swingman take a hands-on approach with his players.
“Whether it was J.R. Smith, trying to get him to do things off screens, or Raymond Felton, showing him how to do things in pick and roll,” Walker said. “Just going down the line with different players, kind of putting his hand out there and helping these guys and showing them some things.”
Woodson made clear in his introductory press conference player development will be at the forefront of getting the Hoosiers back to prominence in the college basketball landscape.
“The development of individual players is vital,” Woodson said. “I don’t care what level it is and what sport it is. If you don’t develop, you struggle, I think, and over the years, all the teams in the NBA that I’ve worked with, we’ve been able to develop great players, man. And it takes time.
“But if the player is willing to accept coaching, because it’s demanding. I mean, it wasn’t easy for me, and I turned out just fine, and I’m going to push guys, and I’m going to be demanding that they work, come to the gym and put the time in, and I think if they do that, good things will happen, and then in the long run, we will all benefit from it from a basketball standpoint.”
The 63-year-old Woodson said the buck stops with him when it comes to developing players.
“It’s not a manager’s job. It’s not a GA’s job. It’s me and my coaching staff’s job to develop,” Woodson said. “I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always done it that way. I like being on the basketball floor and working with players. That’s just what I do.”
Returning Indiana junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis learned Woodson’s passion for player development first hand. Jackson-Davis entered his initial meeting with Woodson expecting to hear a sales pitch or promises to convince him to return for his junior season. Instead, Jackson-Davis entered a film session that critiqued different aspects of his game, including his weaknesses.
“He really told me the things that I did not want to hear,” Jackson-Davis said. “He told me what I needed to work on. He showed me clips of me playing. He showed me my missed shots, what I should have done in this situation, where I needed to take shots.”
That convinced Jackson-Davis that Woodson was focused on making him better, and fueled his decision to return for his junior season.
“He basically told me that we’re going to get your right hand going. We’re going to get that right, and we’re going to get your jump shot right,” Jackson-Davis said. “Basically, he wants me to shoot those shots in game. If I don’t shoot them, he’s going to take me out of the game.”
Woodson has made player development a priority in hiring his staff as well. Dane Fife, brought in as IU associate head coach this week, was a former Hoosier standout widely considered one of the best defensive teachers in college basketball during his 10-year stint as an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
“These guys are going to get a lot of hands on from Coach Woodson individually and from a team setting from my staff,” Woodson said. “That’s why I’m assembling a staff that I think that can teach and work on the floor with the players because that’s important, I think, when you are talking about building a basketball team. Coach (Bob) Knight did it with me. All the great coaches that I’ve played for once I left Indiana University, I played in the pros, were always hands on with me. So that’s what I’m going to be when I step foot on the floor with these players.”
Walker, now a college basketball head coach at Arkansas Little-Rock, said he was given the freedom to teach and help players grow under Woodson during his stint with the Knicks.
“He was hands on in player development with players but also allowing his staff to help develop the guys at the same time,” Walker said. “That’s one thing I like about working for Mike Woodson.”
Woodson’s resume of developing NBA players includes All-Stars Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Julius Randle, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. Walker expects Woodson to be able to relate to and get the most out of college players the way he did with rookies and younger players from the NBA teams he coached.
“You have to deal with 18-, 19-year-old, 20-year-old kids. That’s a little different than dealing with multi-millionaires,” Walker said. “But, at the end of the day, you got to understand something. You are dealing with multi-millionaires that have their own corporations that have big egos, and I’ve seen Mike Woodson deal from Carmelo Anthony to J.R. Smith to Josh Smith to Marvin Williams to a whole lot of different cast of players.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Woody would be able to relate to these young college basketball players. No doubt about it, and every coach is as good as his staff, and Coach Woodson is going to put together a good staff.”