As Syracuse tries to steady itself during a rocky transfer portal, the recruiting targets out there are also fascinating. The Orange is in on multiple 5-star recruits, including Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. Another elite prospect SU covets is Zion Cruz, a 6’5″ combo guard out of New Jersey that has already proven to have big game instincts, who has visited SU’s campus.
One of the schools that suddenly becomes intriguing is Indiana. The Hoosiers offered Cruz last summer, but that was under Archie Miller. IU has since dismissed him and replaced Miller with former Knicks head coach Mike Woodson.
While the hire has been met with a yawn in many college basketball circles, Woodson does have a certain profile in the tri-state area. Being the head coach of the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony was at the height of his powers gives Woodson credibility. While that may feel like a different lifetime for long suffering Knicks fans (New York battling for a spot in the East Finals?), it may actually be a different lifetime for a high school kid.
“It‚Äôs the fact that a 63-year-old man who has never worked at the college level is taking on a job that, in this era, often has very little to do with the actual coaching of basketball. And it‚Äôs completely fair to be skeptical about his ability to do it, much less whether he really understands what he‚Äôs getting into in the first place at his alma mater.” – Dan Wolken, USA Today
The Knicks made that run in ’13, which means Cruz was around 9-years-old when it happened. Does that resonate with such a young person? Perhaps, considering the Knicks are always the biggest basketball story in the NYC area when they’re good. But more than that, does Woodson have what it takes to sway Cruz? Syracuse just came off a run to the Sweet 16. Indiana hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament at all in years. Two other schools who have offered Cruz, Baylor and UCLA, are in the Final Four.
Woodson’s NBA experience may be enticing for young players hoping to play in the league. That’s part of the reason IU hired him. It’s time to get to work for Woodson. Cruz has famously said “loyalty matters.” Syracuse will (probably) have the same coach it has had for 45 years when Cruz is ready to play in ’22. Talk about loyalty. Woodson and IU will have to make up a lot of ground and use his experience in the NBA as the focal point.