BLOOMINGTON – Mike Woodson had a good day on Monday.
The IU coach has landed a spring engagement from five-star forward Malik Reneau, a former Florida player and Montverde Academy teammate of five-star colleague (and IU contractor) Jalen Hood-Schifino. Joining Hood-Schifino, CJ Gunn and Kaleb Banks, Reneau gives Woodson the top-rated 2022 class in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports Composite.
He’s also the third player ranked number 30 or better on the metric to commit to IU in the 13 months Woodson has been in charge, a pretty straightforward rebuttal to questions about Woodson’s recruiting ability when he was pulled from a career. of decades in the NBA to lead his alma mater last year.
More:Choose UI as a ‘no brainer’ for Malik Reneau; gives Mike Woodson a top-5 class
Measurement report:Malik Reneau may dominate around the edge, but there’s more to the UI commit game
But there’s something more fundamental signaled by Monday’s news, something basketball needs to recognize: It’s time to stop saying that professional coaches can’t succeed in college.
It became a precariously lazy position to begin with.
The popular opinion for some time has been that the best and brightest minds in the game gravitate to the NBA, so exhausting are the headaches that come with college training, and that’s where all the innovation happens. Therefore, players and coaches should arrive as soon as possible and stay as long as possible. Reality is not so black and white, but it is presented (and often accepted) to be so.
However, some within the college game – and that includes the media – continued to hold to the idea that only college coaches are capable of coaching in college.
If they can go to the NBA, then do it. Life is better there. They won’t have to deal with nosy boosters or recruiting calendars or annoying parents. But while they’re here, in collegethey are the only people capable of handling the demands of running a large program.
Of course, many of the biggest innovations in the game – from Xs and Os to skill development and player wellness – are happening in the NBA. But this is college. You have to participate in AAU tournaments in college. And learn about the recruitment rules at college. And build relationships with young people in college. Not like the young NBA players who are the same age and products of the same developmental line, and sometimes literally the former teammates of players still in college. No, no, this is different.
There are no headaches in the NBA, you see. No egos. No players frustrated with playing time or squad status. No administrative policy. No petty property disputes that can last like a dark gray cloud over a franchise. Well, there was the exhausting Atlanta Spirit saga orbiting the Hawks for pretty much the entirety of Woodson’s Atlanta tenure, where he led a previously moribund franchise to the playoffs three years in a row, but this isn’t a booster dinner, so it’s not quite the same. .
Doesn’t this all sound a little silly? Do you really think the conversation between 18-year-old Malik Reneau and 18-year-old Marvin Williams, even though they are approaching from opposite directions, is different? When NBA players, young and old, spoke enthusiastically about Woodson’s coaching ability following his signing at IU, or when Knicks players, one by one, embraced him as he returned to New York for his final goodbyes at last spring, was this all a show?
Or is it possible that a lot of this is just basketball, and it translates, and it’s not as mutually exclusive as it’s sold to you?
Reneau’s commitment moved Indiana to fifth nationally in the 2022 class, according to 247Sports Composite. A quick scan of that top 10 finds three teams led by coaches whose CVs are grounded in the NBA.
In his first season at Bloomington, Woodson led the Hoosiers to 21 wins, a Big Ten tournament semifinal appearance, and their first NCAA tournament berth in six years, in addition to the aforementioned recruiting success.
Juwan Howard had what has become by Michigan standards a bad year this winter, only managing to catch a number 11 seed before advancing to the Sweet 16, defeating the Final Four Tennessee underdog along the way. This is Howard’s second consecutive top 10 recruiting class, following his second consecutive season in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Fresh from his back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Eric Musselman has the country’s second-class 2022 Arkansas. He took a slightly different path, given his time in Nevada before moving to Fayetteville. But before taking on Reno, he spent most of his career in the NBA (12 seasons, including three as head coach), and it was Musselman’s ability to develop pro-level talent in Nevada that helped him to 110 wins. and three NCAA tournament appearances in four years before getting the job at Arkansas.
If Woodson is going to be that successful in the long run, that misses the point.
Every engagement comes with risk. Archie Miller looked like a home run without a doubt when Indiana pulled him out of Dayton in 2017, but he never made it to the NCAA tournament until he was fired four years later. Coaches who seem certain that things can fail, and others who can succeed without being absolute successes.
However, when college programs, especially large college programs, come to the NBA, there is an immediate suggestion in some quarters that any outstanding college coach would have been better. If an NBA coach comes here to take on one of the great jobs in the sport, he’s almost obligated to be that absolute success simply to avoid being called a failure. Why? because this is college.
What this usually means is that NBA coaches don’t have to recruit. There are other differences — they aren’t hampered by the NCAA’s 20-hour rule or academic schedules, for example — but recruitment is what comes up most often because it seems to cast the biggest shadow.
There are his nuts and bolts. Will NBA coaches be willing to sit in gyms and watch perspectives all day, learn and play by NCAA rules, foster strong relationships with teenagers, take lots of time to get to know them and their families, etc.?
And then there’s the broader theoretical stuff: selling your show, mapping out a player’s career, convincing them that you’re the right person to develop it.
This came about when Woodson was hired. The suggestion was that the long days and short nights part of the job would be too much for 60-somethings without a day of college coaching experience before March 29, 2021, NBA coaches would never have to work long hours.
Set aside for now that some of these comments, spoken in another context, would not seem so harmless. And ignore the degree to which Musselman doesn’t seem to face as many of that criticism as Howard or Woodson, and not just because of his time in Nevada.
Still, the notion is pretty silly, isn’t it? Basketball is still basketball in the NBA. Players still need guidance. They still need to sell their methods, the difference is that here it’s called recruiting and there it’s called free agency. And if the NBA is where all the cool stuff in the sport is happening anyway – again, this isn’t necessarily true, but it’s perception – then isn’t it logical that high school players will find someone deeply ingrained at that level attractive?
It’s almost as if the job is more or less the same: build a good team, work hard on the assessments, and then train what you have to the best of your ability. Woodson did these things, not least, with assistants Kenya Hunter and Yasir Rosemond key figures in much of Indiana’s early success in Woodson’s tenure.
This is not a promise that every big move from the NBA to college will win big in the long run. It’s not even a promise that this one will. But after watching several coaches, including Mike Woodson, come from the pro game to college and have immediate and substantive success in recruiting, development, and results, let’s stop acting like these moves are a silly task when, increasingly, defending them seems foolish.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.