‘Best to come out of Indy since Oscar Robertson’

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Indiana University introduces Mike Woodson as their new head coach on Monday, March 29, 2021.

Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — Two decades after the god of Indianapolis high school basketball Oscar Robertson made his mark, a 6-foot, 5-inch explosion of a player burst onto city courts.

Mike Woodson was intense, animated, serious and the nemesis of his opponents. As the city’s leading scorer and Broad Ripple High superstar, he was part of the heated rivalries played in packed gyms with some 3,500 fans crammed in and more pouring in the doors. 

These were the spectators here for the show and this was Woodson’s stage. He dove over rivals, pulled down rebounds with his knuckles and, on a drive toward a basket, nearly used an opponent’s back as a step ladder.

The other teams knew they had to stop him. But they couldn’t.

His name was splashed almost daily in newspapers. And not just a mention. Woodson was the headline.

“Woodson leads 63-60 overtime upset… Woodson was nearly the entire story for the Rockets, scoring a game high 37 points…Mike Woodson’s 32-point gunning was just too muchWoodson bombs 38 points in overtime win…Woodson goes on a tear…Mike Woodson scores 6-8 final points for win”

“Playing with Mike, it was awesome, a lot of attention,” said his teammate Don Cox, who would often join Woodson in a 1-2 punch of 60-plus points in a game. “All of a sudden, we were famous. We had our names in the newspaper. And for me, that was something. For me, I was nobody.”

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Mike Woodson, Broad Ripple, drives toward the basket over the back of Marshall’s Doug Whyde during a game in January of 1976. (Photo: IndyStar archives)

Woodson was nobody, too. Until he was Indianapolis’ basketball superstar, until he was among an elite group being talked about for Mr. Basketball. Until he was among an even more elite group being compared to that god of Indianapolis basketball.

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“Broad Ripple’s Mike Woodson is being heralded in many circles as the best high school basketball talent to come out of Indianapolis since all-time great Oscar Robertson,” wrote IndyStar sports columnist Bob Collins in 1976.

When Woodson was announced as Indiana University’s new head coach this week, talk of his four years playing for Bob Knight swirled. Stories of his time as an NBA player and coach were repeated.

But, before all that, there was a tiny house with 12 children. There was a teacher who saw something in a boy who didn’t see it in himself. There was a kid trying to battle it out on cracked city courts and inside rec centers with guys six years older. 

“It all started,” Woodson said, “in Indianapolis.”

‘That’s all I needed to hear’

Woodson was born in the spring of 1958, the second youngest of Chester Lee and Odessa Woodson’s children. His dad delivered pianos for a living, but was always taking on odd jobs to make ends meet. His mom was a private duty nurse.

Home wasn’t much, a few bedrooms for all of them. His sister Jan said they all had to learn how to get along, 14 people in a compact house. They didn’t have a lot, but they never realized it.

There was always food on the table. Maybe not the steaks Woodson, his two brothers and nine sisters longed for, but there was food. There were popsicles in the freezer.

After a long day playing in the hot afternoon sun, Woodson would always invite his friends back for a frozen treat. If the stash got low, Woodson was the first to offer to split one or forgo his altogether.

He was the Woodson kid with the biggest heart, his siblings always said. And his gentle ways caught the attention of a sixth-grade teacher. That’s when the basketball dream began.


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@DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.

This news is originally posted here

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