IU men loaded with new faces; Hosting FGCU Tuesday in Bloomington



When the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was new in 1969 half the country ran around spouting a phrase of dialogue from Paul Newman and Robert Redford: “Who are those guys?” they repeated about a determined posse.

Well, as the 2023-24 men’s college basketball season is poised to begin for the Indiana University men’s team with a Nov. 7 home game versus Florida Gulf Coast, fans cannot be blamed for uttering the same sentence.

Gone from the 23-12 NCAA tournament invitee are top players such as All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino, who went pro after one year.

A handful of regulars return, mixing with transfers and recruits, symbolizing the kind of roster turnover common to major college basketball these days.

When coach Mike Woodson met with sportswriters in a pre-season session, even he wondered aloud how it would all turn out.

“They’re eager,” he said. “I’m dealing with young players. I’ve got to be patient.”

Woodson, the one-time IU star and long-time NBA player and coach starting his third season back in Bloomington as head of the program, has not changed his definition of, success. Winning matters. Claiming a Big Ten title is a goal. Winning the school’s first national championship since 1987, and sixth overall, is on his mind.

“There’s always urgency,” Woodson said. “I want to win now.”

Chances are he will. Warmly greeted when he came back to run the program he starred for under Bob Knight, Woodson’s first IU team finished 21-14 and reached the NCAA tournament when few thought it would. Add in last season’s results and his college head coaching record is 44-26, a .629 winning percentage.

In this era of constant turnover in college basketball due to liberal transfer rules and the insertion of Name, Image and Likeness payments into the recruiting mix, it is difficult for coaches and fans both to assess the caliber of their favorite team too early in the campaign.

Returning players for Indiana – their turn to lead and accomplish – include forward Malik Reneau, point guard Xavier Johnson, guard Trey Galloway, forward Kaleb Banks and guards C.J. Gunn and Anthony Leal. The rest are strangers.

McKenzie Mgbako, a freshman five-star recruit from New Jersey did not make a great first impression, recently being arrested at a Bloomington Taco Bell in the middle of the night for apparently causing a ruckus in the drive-through lane. He was charged with criminal trespass, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and one year in jail.

After studying the matter, Woodson did not issue a suspension and said in-house punishment would be kept quiet. Then Mgbako scored 14 points with 8 rebounds in 25 minutes of play in a 74-52 exhibition win over the University of Indianapolis.

Key for the Hoosiers will be Johnson, who was running the team on the floor, but then was injured after 11 games last season. A 6-foot-3 transfer from Pittsburgh, Johnson, was given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.

“X didn’t get a chance to show what he did in his first year,” Woodson said of the setback. “He’s done it a little bit longer than most of the guys on our team.”

The year prior, Johnson averaged 12.1 points and 5.1 assists.

“I want to win,” Johnson said. “It’s my last go-around in college basketball. We’ve got to come together as a team right now. We can’t wait. They’re expecting me to lead. It’s different coming off an injury. I’ve never had one.”

Galloway is a 6-5, fifth-year senior who gained extra playing time after Johnson got hurt and several times wowed the Assembly Hall crowd with his three-point shooting. He hit over 46 percent from behind the arc.

“I definitely learned a lot,” Galloway said of being counted on as a point guard often rather than as a shooting guard. “It’s hard to run a team.”

One wild-card returner who showed moments of brilliance last season was Reneau, a 6-9 forward from Miami who is hard to stop around the hoop. He scored a high of 15 points while playing in every game. Reneau has gone from inexperienced to seasoned, understanding what the coaches want and knowing he is expected to help the newcomers.

“My first year was definitely an eye-opener,” Reneau said. “That really helped me coming up. (He wants to be) one of the guys we rely on.”

IU added considerable height. Kel’el Ware is a 7-foot sophomore transfer from Oregon. Anthony Walker is a 6-8 senior who left Miami’s Final Four team for Indiana. And Payton Sparks is a 6-10 junior transfer from Ball State.

The opener against Florida Gulf Coast (at 6:30 p.m.) is being heralded as “The Bill Garrett Game,” honoring the former IU player on the 75th anniversary of his first season with the Hoosiers. Garrett, from Shelbyville, who died in 1974, was a pioneer in the late 1940s and early 1950s, becoming the first regular Black basketball player in the Big Ten, and is a member of Indiana’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Among other non-conference games, IU meets defending national champion Connecticut in the Empire State Classic in New York, Auburn, and 2022 NCAA champ Kansas.

Characterizing the non-league portion of the schedule as tough, Woodson said, “I like competition. You can’t be scared of competition or you’re in the wrong game.”

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