When Mike Woodson took the head coaching job at Indiana in March he knew that, in addition to breathing life into a moribund program and restoring the faith of a fan base that had spent much of the second half of the Hoosiers' Big Ten Tournament game in March booing their team through its sixth straight loss, he had one task on the court that was more pressing than all the others.
He had to get Indiana to be able to shoot from the outside. Not even to shoot well, just to do it passably.
Woodson noted as much in his introductory press conference:
“The 3-ball has changed the game, there's no doubt about that,” the newly-hired coach said. “We have to find players that can make the 3-ball.”
Outside shooting was a continual issue for the Hoosiers during their years under former coach Archie Miller – Indiana did not rank in the top 200 in the country in 3-point percentage in any of Miller's four years at the helm.
Making matters worse for Woodson, the two players from the 2020-21 Hoosiers that decided to transfer out early in his tenure – guards Al Durham and Armaan Franklin – were the only players on Indiana's roster who had shot better than 35% from beyond the arc last season (minimum 25 attempts).
Now that Woodson has been in the job several months and has begun to shape the roster and mold it to fit what he wants to do on the court – coaches could begin working with players in-person again June 10 – he believes progress has been made, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.
“I like everybody to be able to make the 3s,” the former Knicks and Hawks head coach said recently. “I'm still searching in the future for guys that can make the long ball. ... This is our team as we move forward, and we are going to have to put the time in on the floor in terms of shooting the ball.”
One of the most important moves Woodson has made in that department since taking over the program was bringing Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp into the fold. Kopp is a proven college 3-point shooter – he hit 39.6% from deep as a sophomore in 2019-20, though that was down to 33% last season – and at 6-foot-7 can theoretically play three positions.
Kopp's presence in summer workouts might have contributed to the departure of another Hoosiers shooter, Jerome Hunter (34.8% from 3 in 2020-21, third on the team), who transferred to Xavier after the former Wildcat's arrival. Woodson noted that he thought Hunter was an “excellent kid,” but that he and the coach didn't quite mesh the way Woodson wanted.
That leaves Kopp as one of only two proven shooters for Indiana, along with Tennessee-Martin transfer Parker Stewart, who has drawn rave reviews for his ability from distance from star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. Incoming freshman Tamar Bates was a good shooter in high school, but Woodson noted he has to prove it at the college level. Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson is a high-scoring guard, but shooting isn't his strength and he wasn't brought in to fill that role, the coach said.
So what next? Woodson emphasized the key will be getting players already on the roster to stretch their range beyond the line.
“We are going to work with (Race) Thompson as we go down the road because he's going to have an opportunity to step out and be in that position to make shots,” Woodson said. “Same with (Trey) Galloway and guys like that. (Rob) Phinisee is streaky in his shooting, but these are things we all go to work on.”
The new coach even suggested South Florida transfer Michael Durr, a 7-0 center, could step out to that distance.
The short answer seems to be: It's a work in progress. After four years of continuous bricks, any progress would be welcome.