Musings of an Old Sportswriter
Free post: On a whole host of subjects, including Mike Woodson's recruiting touch and how I fell back in love with baseball.
When Mike Woodson was hired, I was leery. Not a lot leery, mind you. I loved the idea that the program reached back into its glorious history and tabbed a former great player. I loved the fact he spent decades in the NBA and could show young players what it takes to reach the game’s pinnacle.
But he’s my age – well, close. He’s 65, I’m 63; we attended IU at the same time and have crossed paths frequently over the years. Frankly, I didn’t know if he would have the appetite or the energy to do something he’s never done before – namely, recruit high school kids. I figured he’d be a recruiting closer, that Dane Fife (remember him?) and the rest of his staff would do most of the heavy lifting on the recruiting trail.
And again, I bring up age; perhaps I’m projecting here, but I know that at my age, I don’t have the energy and single-minded purpose I once had. I saw Woodson as a coach first and recruiting would come in a distant second. It would work fine, but I had a hard time seeing Woodson doing the dirty work.
Enter Liam McNeeley, the five-star recruit from Texas who Sunday announced that Woodson and IU had earned his trust and won his services for the next few years (or less, depending on his NBA aspirations). Boogie Fland, who is announcing at 2 p.m. Friday, is expected to select Kentucky over IU, but still…
Woodson has recruited well, starting with his ability to retain Trayce Jackson-Davis, followed by 5 stars Jalen Hood-Schifino (2022), Mackenzie Mgbako (2023) and now McNeeley in 2024. He’s got his pipeline to Florida hoops powerhouse Montverde but this was a breakthrough, and it was a breakthrough that involved him deeply. He was in on McNeeley early, and along with his staff, they stayed with the young man until they finally got the good news Sunday.
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Now the Hoosiers are hoping McNeeley can reach out and get a commitment from Montverde teammate Derik Queen. Pull those two commitments, and IU will have one of the best – if not THE best – recruiting class in the country. We’re talking two 5-stars, all of them ranked in the top 20 by 247 rankings. That said, the competition is stiff.
Remember when Archie Miller wanted to build a fence around Indiana and keep all the best local kids? Looks like Woodson is building a fence around the continental United States. To win on a national scale, you have to recruit nationally, even if your homebase is Indiana, a state that produces its unfair share of basketball talent. Woodson is going for the gusto.
Know who Woodson is? He’s the cool grandpa. And who doesn’t love their grandpa, especially if he’s cool?
“When I took this job, I made it clear to my staff that we had to go and recruit the best players,” Woodson said at IU’s Media Day. “And they were like, `Damn, you just got here. You just can't go to the top.' And I'm like `Why not?’ I think we've positioned ourselves to be able to sit at the table with all the top players. That's not to say you're going to get them, but if you're not sitting there, then you don't have an opportunity at all.”
Woodson and IU continue to compete with the big boys, beat the big boys, eat at the big boys’ table. About time.
If it turns out that Michigan was sign-stealing in an effort to beat IU, the Wolverines should have the book thrown at them. Just for stupidity.
I watched bits and pieces of the compelling Liberty-Aces WNBA Final Series, only to be disappointed to learn the losing team, the Liberty, made just two players and a coach available at a post-game press conference after the deciding game.
Listen, if you want coverage for your league, you’ve got to do significantly better than that. Open the locker room, just the way they do in the NBA. You can’t complain about a lack of coverage and then pull that kind of nonsense. These are remarkable, smart, thoughtful women who have a lot to say about basketball and things in general; the more we hear from them, the better.
But don’t hide when things go south.
Especially playing in the crowded New York market, where you’re battling countless other sports for media and fan attention.
The Pacers season begins Wednesday at home against Washington, and I can’t wait.
This is going to be one of the more intriguing, fun, fast-paced teams in the league, especially with the additions of Obi Toppin and Bruce Brown. This group is going to be dynamic in transition, the only question being, can they guard anybody? They were next to last to points per game allowed last year. They need to improve to the middle of the pack to reach the playoffs.
I think they’ll be playing in the post-season.
As a kid, baseball was my first love.
I collected baseball cards, played “flip” for hours on end – do they still play “flip”? -- played Strat-O-Matic Baseball and kept copious statistics. When it was time to break in a new glove, we did the whole routine with leather oil, a baseball and string and stuck it under our pillows at night.
I could mimic the windup of just about every Major League pitcher, which established me as something of a dork on the playground.
And then I fell out of love with the game.
Yeah, I’d watch the post-season, but during the summer, it was background noise. I couldn’t name three players on a team, even the Mets, who were my boyhood team. I could name the starting lineup for the 1969 Miracle Mets, but couldn’t name three current players. It just got too freaking slow, especially when I was working in Denver, where every game lasted 4 hours or more. Then we moved to Indy, a city with no Major League team, and it was out of sight, out of mind.
This year, that has changed. I’ve fallen back in love with baseball. That doesn’t mean I watch 162 Mets games but when a game is on, I’ll watch, especially now in the post-season. The rules changes have made the game much faster and more palatable. There are still things that drive me crazy, like both Texas and Houston pulling their starters in the middle innings while both pitching shutouts – remember complete games? – but the game is moving at a much better pace. Shoot, even stolen bases have made a reappearance. Bunts? OK, let’s not get crazy, but you get the idea.
With a $20 million buyout, I don’t see IU firing Tom Allen at the end of this season, but this Rutgers game is a massive one for the embattled coach in terms of establishing a trajectory. If the Hoosiers get run out of their own building by the surprisingly good Scarlet Knights (5-2) the way they did when they got trashed at home, 38-3, in 2021, there will be no turning back. At 2-4 with six games remaining, this season is still somewhat salvageable. Lose this one, and it’s all but over.
For the record, Allen’s buyout after next season is $7.95 million, which is much more manageable.
What little fandom I’ve harbored as a professional big-j journalist, I had a little bit for the Cleveland Browns. I worked in Cleveland from 1987-90, followed those Bernie Kosar-led teams that kept running headlong into John Elway and the Denver Broncos. I loved the city, the people, the long-suffering fans, and really wanted to see the Browns give the city a championship after so many lean years.
That warm feeling is gone. The owner, Jimmy Haslam, seems like a contemptible sort, and the decision to sign Deshaun Watson to a massive, guaranteed contract left me cold. I understand their desperation in the quarterback realm. While Colts fans complain about the quarterback carousel here, Cleveland fans are remembering Charlie Frye and saying, “Hold my beer.” The Browns haven’t had a consistently good quarterback since Kosar. But I feel like they sold their soul to the devil to bring in Watson and, lo and behold, he hasn’t been worth the money (or the public-relations hit). Not even close.