Mike Woodson reflects on NCAA Tournament experience as a player ahead of coaching first March Madness game
Mike Woodson is excited to be coaching his alma mater in the NCAA Tournament. Woodson’s only March Madness experience comes from his time as a player at Indiana.
“It means a great deal,” Woodson said of bringing the Hoosiers back to the Big Dance. “I mean, when Scott Dolson, our AD, called and asked to speak to me when I was in New York as an assistant with the Knicks, I was thrilled to death. He flew into New York, sat down with me, and he and I had a great two-and-a-half, three-hour meeting. And one thing led to another. And a couple of weeks later I was offered the job.
“For me it’s like a dream come true. I’ve been in basketball a long time. I’ve worn a number of hats as a player, as a head coach, as an assistant coach. But to be able to come back and coach your alma mater, a place where you really — where the university was really good to me as a player, when I played for Coach Knight. And I think I played for probably the greatest college coach that’s ever graced the floor in Bob Knight. It’s like a dream come true. So it’s good to be back.”
Woodson knows postseason basketball is different having played in the NCAA Tournament and coached NBA playoff games.
“It’s a grind,” Woodson said of the tournament. “Preparation is so important. Yes, it’s exciting times, but everybody wants to win, man. Nobody wants to go home. That’s why it’s so competitive. That’s why when March Madness rolls around, you see all these great games. And you just walk away shaking your head, saying, wow, that was a hell of a game. It’s just different playing for a Big Ten title, it’s different.
“The play is so intense. And that’s how it should be. It’s like NBA playoff. The level of play just goes to a different level.”
The NBA playoffs, of course, aren’t all win-or-go games like the NCAA Tournament. Woodson knows it all comes down to having his team play its best basketball.
“I got calls from Coach (John) Calipari and Larry Brown, two of my closest friends,” Woodson said. “They wished me well. But they don’t need to give me — at the end of the day, man, I’ve coached enough basketball and been around it a long time, man. It’s about getting these guys pumped and ready to go, man, and sustaining it over a 40-minute ball game. That’s what it’s going to be about.”