BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana fans welcomed coach Mike Woodson back to Assembly Hall with a rousing ovation Tuesday.
He walked off the court with a new addition for his trophy case.
After months of wondering what new wrinkles the former Hoosiers star would install and hoping yet another coaching change would finally restore the Hoosiers' glorious past, Woodson finally got a chance to show everyone the work he's done.
“It feels good to be 1-0, but we’ve got a long way to go," he said after Indiana held on for a 68-62 victory over Eastern Michigan, Woodson's first as a college coach. “And I will keep that ball as a souvenir."
The opening day of college basketball tipped off Tuesday filled with hope, certainly at Indiana and some five dozen schools that changed coaches during a tumultuous offseason, including the Hoosiers' opponent. The Eagles also brought back one of their former players, Stan Heath.
Woodson isn’t the biggest name or most prominent school on the list of changes.
Hubert Davis dressed in a powder blue pullover for his first game since replacing three-time national champion Roy Williams at North Carolina. The 19th-ranked Tar Heels rolled past Loyola (Maryland) 83-62.
Mike Krzyzewski, a five-time national champ and the career leader in wins, begins his final season at No. 9 Duke with his successor Jon Scheyer at his side for a showdown against No. 10 Kentucky. Former national runner-up coach Chris Beard left Texas Tech for Texas, where he replaced Shaka Smart, and begin his next chapter Tuesday against Houston Baptist. Smart wound up at Marquette.
Porter Moser, who led Loyola Chicago to the Final Four and replaced Lon Kruger at Oklahoma, made his debut against Northwestern State. And new Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd started his new job against Northern Arizona. The Wildcats fired Sean Miller in the spring while Indiana made the same decision with Miller's brother, Archie, opening the door for Woodson’s hiring — and much-anticipated debut.
It was a fitting start for a new era at Indiana.
In December 1971, Bob Knight made his Indiana debut at the grand opening of one of the state's best-known basketball cathedrals. This time, as the Hoosiers tipped off their 50th season inside the building, Woodson became the first true Knight disciple to return to the Indiana bench — though longtime assistant Dan Dakich served in that capacity briefly as an interim coach.
“I'm excited for the change," said 56-year-old Walter Marker, a fan from New Castle, Indiana. “I think he'll bring in some talent and expose the guys to an NBA style. I think it's a great culture change, similar to Bob Knight, and when you talk to people around New Castle, everyone's excited."
Woodson, the Indiana alum to run the program without an interim title since Lou Watson was hired in 1965, sensed it. Longtime fans remember how Woodson dazzled fans on high school courts around Indianapolis before playing for Knight from 1977-80.
The 63-year-old Woodson said he received dozens of ticket requests from friends and family and wasn't sure how he'd react to coaching his first college game after spending the past quarter-century on NBA benches.
“I haven’t been in that atmosphere in a long, long time,” Woodson said on the eve of his debut. “I think when I walk out on the floor and I see the fans, that’s going to be nice. But it’s all about trying to get these guys to play at a high level.”
Some new coaches, such as Micah Shrewsberry of Penn State, Kevin Kruger of UNLV and Mark Adams at Texas Tech, are getting their first big breaks. Others like Tim Miles at San Jose State and Richard Pitino at New Mexico, are getting new opportunities to prove themselves.
There are also some familiar names, too.
Former NBA All-Star Reggie Theus took the Bethune-Cookman job after being out of college basketball for 14 seasons. Rodney Billups, the brother of former Colorado and NBA star Chauncey Billups, is at Denver. Hofstra, Lamar and Minnesota all hired alums — Speedy Claxton, Alvin Brooks and Ben Johnson.
But on opening night, everyone was looking for a fresh start.
“I think we almost needed to have someone from that (Knight) era," said J.R. Smith, a 50-year-old fan who made the drive from Kokomo to Bloomington to see Woodson's opening night. “What I really like is how he brought back the older guys so the younger guys could see why they are here."