The New York Knicks are 5-0 early in the 2012-'13 season and currently the only NBA team still undefeated. This is exactly where head coach Mike Woodson expects to be. Licking his chops.
The drama of the largest of sports markets is nothing more than a highlighted opportunity to show the sports world what he thinks of himself. How he challenges himself underneath that cool demeanor to be the best head coach possible. Woodson is not here for appearances. He wants to defeat every opponent in front of his team.
Moved up the bench after Mike D'Antoni resigned under the NYC pressure, Woody, as he's known, took the chance and has put together a mix of midcareer stars and savvy veterans with the goal of bringing a championship home to The Mecca, Madison Square Garden. With a sub .500 record in the regular season and playoffs, is Woodson the coach who could become the King of New York?
Born in 1958, in Indianapolis, Ind, a young Woodson knew the importance of basketball. He felt Bobby Knight's hardcore responsibility to the game as early as 6th grade. His favorite teacher Billy Hamilton paid his way to one of Knight's camps because he knew the effect Knight would have on Woodson.
This led Woodson to play for Knight after graduating from Broad Ripple High School.
"I wanted to go somewhere where I could play", Woodson told the New York Post, "and where I knew I could get a great education, and my family didn't have to travel far to see me. So it was perfect. And I thought I was playing for the best coach in the country at that time."
Mike balled out at Indiana averaging 19.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.6 apg, won the NIT in ’78 -79 and a Big Ten Title.
Drafted by the New York Knicks 12th overall in 1980, he only stayed for a year before leaving town. Little did he know life would later lead him back to the Big Apple.
When his playing career ended, he took his talents to the bench as an assistant coach where he won a championship under Larry Brown in Detroit. In 2004, he got to run his own ship by taking over as head coach for Terry Stotts in Atlanta. Over the next five seasons, Atlanta won more games than the previous year -- ultimately peaking at 53-29 in 2010.
That year, Orlando swept Atlanta in the semi-finals. Atlanta lost to Orlando in Eastern Conference Finals the previous year as well and Woodson's contract was not renewed.
Woodson and the Hawks were good but not good enough to be the best in the East
"We couldn't get past Orlando, but he won,” said Arthur Triche, Hawks VP of public relations from 1989 - 2012).“Once [Woody] was gone, the players realized what they had.
“He was fair and made players better. He and Josh (Smith) had highly publicized run-ins, but that can be explained away as Josh being young. Woody was a rookie head coach. They had rocky moments but grew to expect each other's position and what they brought to the table. We weren't going to win without Josh and we weren't going to win without Woody. [Woody] took losses hard. Very hard.”
That experience with Smith may help his relationships in New York with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. But right now, dealing with those superstars might be the least of his problems.
With the oldest average age in the NBA, the team looks more like a Centrum Silver ad than the spunky squad that took the floor last season.
Kurt Thomas is 40, Jason Kidd, who is also playing a little two guard, is 39, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace are both 38. However,former Bulls scout Clarence Gaines Jr., son of legendary Winston-Salem State University head coach Big House Gaines, thinks Woodson can handle this squad that’s a little long in the tooth
“The Knicks are creating a new team culture,” Gaines said. “[Woodson] brought Kidd in to set the tone of what really needs to be a part of the team and show the team how to have each other's back and share the ball.
“Whatever Woody is doing, he's doing the right job. Some coaches need time to mature and his Atlanta experience seems to have prepared him for this Knicks experience."
Since it’s his first full season at the helm, this will be the year Woodson must prove his worth. There will be New York distractions like media and fancy events. The Brooklyn Nets will grab headlines regardless of record because of how the team is marketed to Brooklyn and beyond. However, this actually might be a blessing in disguise affording the Knicks Madison Square Garden moments of solitude.
Woodson will have to do his best job as a head coach for this team to fully reach its potential. The pressure will be non -stop and definitely waiting when the team comes off the road.
When Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert return, Woodson's challenge will be how to work out floor minutes. Expectations will be high. Will Melo continue to defer to Kidd, or go for his? He will be asked to man the 4 spot until the team's health bar rises. There will be conflict if Melo regresses. Woodson will not allow it, and the fallout will be publicized more than anything that ever went on with J-Smoove.
The Knicks weathered Linsanity and and now that Lin is in Houston, could Woodson catch lightening in a bottle and challenge the Eastern Conference elite?
"You gotta be in it for one thing man and that’s to try and win a title." Woodson said, "It’s such a short lived job as a player…as a coach. Not everybody gets that opportunity."