Mike Woodson: The most known unknown

(USA Today)

All Mike Woodson has done is make the NY Knicks a top team in the East.

Mike Woodson took over a New York Knicks squad teetering on disaster a year ago. Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo, yet defenseless style had worn out faster than his players jacked up shots. D’Antoio took sniping from his players, most notably all-star Carmelo Anthony. Woodson was no stranger to things running their coarse. In six seasons as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, he steadily improved a talented squad, but was never able to get out of the second round. Hawks’ management decided they could go no further with Woodson as coach after the Hawks were swept in the semi-finals of the 2010 playoffs.

Woodson is a big reason the Knicks are 38-23 and one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Most impressive, is Woodson taking his team to new heights while flying under the radar — something very few have pulled off coaching in New York.

Basketball runs through Mike Woodson’s veins. Born in the heartland of hoops, the Indianapolis native played wherever a backboard and rim became one. Learning the nuances of the game quickly became Woodson’s passion. He honed his skills playing with Indiana round ball legends George McGinnis, Roger Brown and Rick Mount. Balling in the Hoosier State even today means dribbling, passing, shooting and moving without the basketball. These are definitive characteristics of Bobby Knight’s motion offense at Indiana University.

Ultimately, his collegiate career played out under Knight. In Bloomington, Woodson along with Isaiah Thomas led the Hoosiers to the 1979 NIT Championship. Woodson, a 6’5″ swingman led the Indiana in scoring that season. In his senior year, the Hoosiers won the Big Ten title (Woodson was Big Ten Player of the Year) and advanced to the NCAA round of sixteen. He averaged 19.8 points per game in four seasons. Woodson finished his career with 2,062 points, but is rarely mentioned among Indiana’s greats.

The New York Knicks took Woodson 12th overall in the 1980 NBA Draft. Woodson spent ten seasons in the NBA between six different teams. His best years were with the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings. In five seasons with the Kings, Woodson averaged no less than 14.5 points per game. Woodson wrapped up the final years of his NBA career with stops in Los Angeles (Clippers), Houston and Cleveland.

Woodson’s productive career(14.0 ppg) led him straight to the bench as an assistant. He became a great understudy to coaches George Karl, John Lucas and Larry Brown. In the 2003-04 season, Woodson won an NBA championship as Brown’s assistant with the Detroit Pistons.

In the 2004-05 season, Woodson took over for Terry Stotts as coach of the Atlanta Hawks. In six seasons Woodson took the Hawks from a 13-win lottery participant to a 53-win squad in the NBA’s Southeast Division. The Hawks eventually acquired the talent to become contenders, but were never able to get past the upper class in the Eastern Conference.

Coming back t0 New York brought Woodson full circle. After D’Antoni was let go the Knicks finished 18-6 under Woodson. The Knicks made the postseason,  but were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat.

This year’s version of the New York Knicks has been constructed to challenge the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference crown. The addition of veterans Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin were to push the world champions — figuratively and literally. The Knicks opened the season 21-9 and hold pair of 20-point victories over Miami’s head. Woodson’s squad has come back to earth after going 17-14 since. The Knicks hold the second seed in the East — despite losing to the Heat over a week ago. Carmelo Anthony is enjoying his finest season as is Woodson — who is a prime candidate for NBA Coach of the Year. The Knicks have an anchor in the post in Tyson Chandler, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year.

The list of players and coaches who have succumbed to the pressure in Gotham is endless. If you’re not wrapped tight upstairs, the mental unraveling could be disastrous. Coming through the Indiana program Woodson learned mental toughness on the fly. As an NBA player,  Woodson never garnered the attention of stars of his day and he never complained about it. Woodson doesn’t shy away from his occupation, dressed to the nines — with an impeccable goatee. He isn’t the animated kind — flailing arms and a hoarse cracking voice isn’t his style. Woodson’s calm demeanor should not be taken lightly. He will defend his players — even if it means an early night. In a city full of colorful personalities, Mike Woodson sticks out like a Red Sox fan walking through Harlem. New York is fine with him being just who he is — while leaving the glitz and glamour to his players.

If Mike Woodson has taught the New York sports community anything, it’s bad boys move in silence.

One Response to “Mike Woodson: The most known unknown”

  1. D. N. says:

    Well said. Excellent read.