INDIANAPOLIS – One of the first things Thad Matta investigated when he was hired last spring as Indiana’s associate athletic director for men’s basketball was whether he could give the newly hired head coach and basically NBA live Mike Woodson a head start.
After 17 years as head coach at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler and 11 more as a college assistant coach, Matta knows the NCAA rulebook, including the rule that allows Division I programs to take an international trip in the summer once every four years. years. It is supposed to be a training opportunity, but teams must practice 10 times on campus before touring, and can play up to 10 matches against non-NCAA teams on tour long before the official start of training. It can be especially valuable for a new coach trying to get to know his team and for players trying to get to know their new coach.
Matta learned that IU had not been on a foreign tour since Tom Crean took Hoosiers to Montreal in 2014, so he began exploring the possibilities and presenting them to Woodson.
“I remember saying to him, ‘Hi, we’re going on a trip abroad,’ ‘Matta said at a news conference on Wednesday after the introduction to his return to training at Butler. “I said, ‘I want to try to get something in the Bahamas. We’re flying in a professional team and we want to play against them.’
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Woodson, who spent most of the previous 25 years training in the NBA and had not been a part of college basketball since graduating from IU in 1980, did not even know that a tour abroad was an option.
“He said, ‘Wait a minute, can I train my team this summer?'” Said Matta. “He just got as excited as he could be.”
The Hoosiers ended up playing two games at The Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, where they won two show matches against the Serbian professional club BC Mega, giving Woodson a head start into the fall. It helped IU get started on the road to its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2016.
It was actually Matt’s job at IU last year. He was paid $ 400,000 to help guide Woodson further as he learned about the college part of coaching college basketball. Matta purposefully stayed away from the public over the past year while in the position, but said taking the job and being part of a college program again inspired him to return to coaching after five years away .
“This year, being around it, but not in it, was really good for me,” Matta said. “Sitting in meetings and watching training and learning a disproportionate amount of basketball from Woody, that kind of got me started again.”
The job was the creation of IU athletics director Scott Dolson, who said he came up with it after his discussion with Woodson in New York when he approached Woodson about the job. Woodson called himself a collaborator and indicated he wanted to have a relationship with Dolson similar to the one he had with Glenn Grunwald, who was his teammate at IU and then general manager when Woodson was the head coach of the New York Knicks. Dolson realized that he could not work with Woodson on a constant basis because of his responsibilities to the rest of the department, but decided that Matta would fit the role perfectly.
Matta said he attended staff meetings and attended training every day. At meetings, staff often watched movies together sometimes for scout purposes, but other times because Woodson looked for innovative plays and concepts and discussed with staff whether concepts he saw other teams try would work for IU. Matta was part of these debates. He was an obvious presence at the goal scorer’s table at every match. He said, however, that he mostly left the pitch on the field to Woodson and his assistants.
“I did not have a wealth of input into what was going on, only the nights they won,” said the typically crooked Matta, pausing to see if anyone understood what he was just saying. “It was a joke. I know what Indiana fans are like. I was not trying to get credit there.”
Matt’s contribution was to help Woodson learn the parts of the job he could not have learned from all those years in the NBA. Woodson might have had to plan the game to stop LeBron James, but he had never before had to flip through the NCAA Rulebook to learn about the mysterious rules of what he was allowed to do when recruiting. His NBA connections were endless, but he did not have the same number of contacts for coaches who wanted to stay in the college game, and he had not been to summer travel events where he could see those coaches work.
But Matta had been doing all these things for decades, so he gave that insight.
“Woody would do what Woody would do, but only in the form of (teaching him) the college game,” Matta said. “Helping him put together a staff. Helping him with job responsibilities, that kind of thing … He did not know very much about recruitment, the rules, the rules.”
Woodson has admitted to being a novice in that regard. He told a news conference before the IU’s First Four NCAA Tournament match against Wyoming in March that he found the NCAA compliance test “tricky” and often had to be told things he suggested – such as picking up recruits to visit with a private jet. – were not legal under NCAA rules.
“A lot of it was just recruiting what he could and what he couldn’t,” Matta said. “Like, on an unofficial visit, we can not leave campus. He would say, ‘Let’s take him to dinner.’ We have to say, ‘No, no, we can not leave campus.'”
But annoyed as Woodson might have been over the rules, Matta said he was receptive to having them explained so he did not encounter them.
“He was amazing because he wanted to learn,” Matta said. “Some of those guys do not want to learn. Mike wants to know everything that goes on in the program.”
While Matta was at work, he decided to minimize his public profile. The announcement of his employment with Woodsons added to the buzz surrounding the program and attracted dozens of interview requests, including from IndyStar, but these were never met and Matta gave no interviews while employed in Indiana. It was Matt’s decision.
“I never like being in the spotlight,” Matta said. “But I know in the position I’m in, it’s coming with the territory. When I traveled to Bloomington, I did not want to. I just wanted to be behind the scenes and do what Indiana needed me to do. It I did. I do not want to be known for any of it. It’s the way I am. It’s Mike’s program and I hopefully did something to help him succeed this year and most importantly because I fell in love with Indiana, I did something to help the future of the program. ”
Matta said he believes IU remains in good hands. He said Dolson has become one of his best friends and that he developed a huge respect for Woodson as a coach, man and leader.
“Mike is such a special guy,” Matta said. “He has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen in terms of just his compassion. What I walked away with was his commitment to the game of basketball. Mike Woodson love basketball. Love the ball. I sat for those meetings and we watched, God knows who we saw playing just because he wanted to learn. He wanted new ideas and wanted to be innovative. That was what I took away, was the burning passion for the game of basketball. ”
Follow Indiana insider Dustin Dopirak on Twitter @DustinDopirak or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.