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The story of Mike Woodson’s unlikely season and what it says about the man leading Indiana basketball


A couple of days after he was employed, Mike Woodson talked to an previous pal. On the opposite finish of the telephone was a well-recognized voice, Dr. Henry Feuer. They talked about their households and Feuer congratulated Woodson on his new job as the top coach at Indiana.

That is the way it’s been for many years. Conversations right here and there. Woodson was busy within the NBA and Feuer, a neurosurgeon primarily based in Indianapolis, was busy together with his personal profession. However they’d discover time, Woodson telling Feuer about his son shifting to Los Angeles or one in all his daughters getting married and Feuer sharing updates from his personal life.

“Once we name, we all know precisely who’s on the opposite finish of the telephone,” Feuer says.

Woodson additionally reveals appreciation. He credit Feuer for saving his basketball profession. Lengthy earlier than this March, when Woodson was named as the top coach at Indiana, there was the harm, restoration, and an unlikely season. And to grasp what sort of coach and individual Woodson is, you first must learn about what occurred greater than 40 years in the past and the friendship that adopted.

The yr was 1979 and expectations soared as Indiana was No. 1 within the preseason AP ballot. They’d a hotshot freshman named Isiah Thomas. Studs like Butch Carter and Ray Tolbert. However the Hoosiers have been led by senior guard Mike Woodson.

After the workforce raced off to a 5-1 begin, Woodson was sidelined in mid-December with an harm that he’d been coping with for an prolonged time period. At first, it was a ache in his decrease leg. It wasn’t uncommon for basketball gamers to take care of put on and tear on their legs. However ache like this is also attributable to a extra regarding again harm.

MRIs weren’t generally utilized but, so Woodson went in for a CAT scan. The outcomes revealed a ruptured disc, explaining the discomfort in his legs.

That is when Woodson and Feuer first met. Feuer had been working as a surgical specialist for IU since 1970. The CAT scan of Woodson’s again was despatched to Feuer.

Feuer’s first recommendation was for Woodson to relaxation and take ache medicines. No heavy lifting. Solely strolling for train. Normally, the ache subsides by itself and surgical procedure isn’t wanted.

However Woodson had a extra extreme case. The rupture wasn’t solely inflicting ache, but in addition weak point in his legs. If it didn’t enhance, the worst-case situation was that it will be career-ending. He wouldn’t have the ability to bounce and even run down the court docket with out tripping or spraining his ankles.

“If he didn’t get higher, he wouldn’t be taking part in basketball once more,” Feuer stated.

They adopted Woodson carefully, however by late December no progress was made. Feuer determined the most suitable choice can be to undergo with the surgical procedure. The success fee of surgical procedure, Feuer stated, was higher than 90 %, however it was far more regarding for high-level athletes that put vital pressure on their our bodies. The traditional timetable to return was three months, that means Woodson’s season and profession at IU would possible be over.

However Feuer didn’t see Woodson categorical any frustrations, placing belief within the medical employees.

“In robust conditions, he’s the man who you need to have round,” Feuer stated.

In late December, Woodson underwent surgical procedure at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. He was given anesthesia and laid down face first on a body to regular his backbone. A small incision was made and, utilizing a leading edge microscope, Feuer eliminated 10 to twenty % of the disk.

IU head coach Bob Knight came over Woodson after the surgical procedure. Knight wished to know when Woodson may play once more.

“He is probably not again this yr,” Feuer remembers telling Knight.

Quickly after, Feuer began making calls to different consultants, even a health care provider that labored alongside lumberjacks with again issues, to gauge how shortly Woodson may return.

However what Feuer heard was a close to consensus: Woodson’s taking part in profession at IU can be over.

Woodson, although, had a way of urgency. “He was chomping on the bit,” Feuer stated. Woodson had already performed too many video games to redshirt. This was his final probability.

The ache in Woodson’s again was gone nearly instantly after the operation. Feuer instructed IU’s coach as to what workout routines Woodson may do to rehab. Woodson may bench press, journey a bicycle, do leg extensions and run on a treadmill. So long as it wasn’t straining his again, he may do it.

All of the whereas, Woodson was at follow daily, being the senior captain and declaring directions to his teammates.

Woodson didn’t have any post-operation setbacks. He continued to construct his stamina. Nonetheless, they needed to be cautious. Feuer knew that the very best threat for reinjury was within the first six months after surgical procedure. As time went on, Woodson’s again progressively improved.

Then, on February 14, 1980, in opposition to No. 20 Iowa, regardless of the entire challenges, Woodson made his inconceivable return to the court docket. He scored 18 factors on 7-of-18 capturing from the sector and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line, whereas grabbing 5 rebounds. Indiana beat Iowa by double-digits that evening.

A month and a half earlier, Woodson was laying face down together with his again minimize open.

“There’s no fashion to it, he’s simply very aggressive,” Randy Wittman, Woodson’s teammate at IU, instructed Contained in the Corridor lately. “If he places his thoughts to do one thing, he’s going to attempt to do one of the best he can.”

The Hoosiers received their subsequent 4 video games, establishing the season finale in Bloomington in opposition to No. 9 Ohio State to resolve the Huge Ten title. Within the opening minutes, Woodson sprung off the hardwood to seize his personal miss and caught in a layup.

“It’s a miracle that he may even come again,” Dick Enberg stated on the TV broadcast. “And he’s taking part in as if he by no means had an issue.”

Woodson scored 21 factors that day. Indiana received 76-73 in additional time to seize a convention title in Woodson’s remaining recreation in Meeting Corridor. Because the buzzer sounded, he lifted each arms within the air.

Feuer nervously watched these video games, hoping Woodson wouldn’t re-injure himself. However Woodson didn’t have any points. Within the remaining six video games of the common season, he averaged greater than 20 factors per recreation. He was named the 1980 Huge Ten participant of the yr and earned NABC All-America honors after averaging 19.3 factors, 3.5 rebounds and a pair of.6 assists in 14 video games. Ultimately, Woodson’s run ended when the Hoosiers fell to Purdue within the Candy Sixteen.

Within the years that adopted, whereas he navigated the NBA as a participant and coach, Woodson and Feuer struck up a friendship. Woodson by no means forgot about how Feuer helped him. He’d often name Feuer to check-in. Feuer attended Woodson’s marriage ceremony. Woodson would point out Feuer’s title in interviews or whereas talking at occasions.

“That’s fairly particular in itself, there’s no denying it. Not many athletes do it,” Feuer stated. “You’ll be able to always remember Mike’s persona… That’s what makes him so particular. He’s by no means actually modified in that regard.”

Since he was employed, Woodson has already displayed those self same traits as IU’s head coach. He stated he has an open-door coverage so gamers can all the time speak with him. He’s stated how he needs to assist his gamers develop as males.

“I felt like after I left the sport of taking part in, I had one thing to supply some younger child as a coach on and off the ground,” Woodson stated throughout his introductory press convention. “As a result of I wish to assume the years that I performed right here at Indiana College, Coach Knight did one thing proper as a result of I turned out simply superb.”

And so, a number of days after he was employed at Indiana, Woodson and Feuer have been on the telephone once more. Outdated mates catching up, speaking about their households. Woodson stated he had a whole lot of work to do.

And Woodson does. During the last two weeks, he’s been recruiting, coping with media, constructing relationships with gamers, fascinating a fanbase, and, most of all, attempting to deliver a program again to nationwide relevancy.

In the meantime, regardless of already creating a major buzz, Woodson is going through doubts once more. Nationwide media has criticized his lack of expertise teaching in school, saying that his return as a coach received’t work.

However on their current telephone name, Feuer, having watched Woodson do the unlikely earlier than, stored his message quick.

“I’m not frightened.”

(Photograph credit: Indiana College Archives)

Filed to: Mike Woodson


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