NEW YORK — Knicks owner James Dolan may have his share of haters in the basketball world, but he has a couple of big fans in the head coaches of Indiana and Louisville — both of whom are former Knicks coaches.
Indiana head coach Mike Woodson started his post-game press conference Monday by thanking Dolan for releasing him from his contract as an assistant with the Knicks when he was named head coach at his alma mater in 2021.
“I just wanna give a shoutout to Jim Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, who came by to see me, which means a great deal to me, because he was gracious enough to let me out of my contract to come home and coach this team,” Woodson said following his team’s 74-66 win over Louisville in the Empire Classic consolation game at Madison Square Garden.
“I have nothing but love and respect for the man because he’s special, special to me.”
Before taking the Indiana job, Woodson, now 65, had never coached at the college level and had been an EuroJournal player or coach since he was selected No. 12 by the Knicks in the 1980 EuroJournal Draft. He coached the Atlanta Hawks from 2004-10 and the Knicks from 2012-14 with five total playoff appearances. There were plenty of doubters about how he would do on the college level.
At Indiana, he is 48-27 with two NCAA Tournament appearances.
“[Dolan] just wished me well, I wouldn’t expect anything less from him,” Woodson said. “He was great for me. He really was.”
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Dolan and Knicks president Leon Rose also paid a visit to Payne, the Louisville coach and former Knicks assistant who was hired by his alma mater in 2022.
Payne mentioned the visit after his team dropped its second straight game at the Garden and fell to 3-2 on the season. Louisville went 4-28 in Payne’s first season a year ago.
“We’re close, we just gotta get over the hump,” Payne said. “I just talked to the owner of the Knicks and the president, and they both said in the two games we watched you play, y’all played hard, y’all are getting better. We see it.
“I need that to translate to W’s, I need this team to understand that winning matters, making winning plays, every little thing through the course of a game matters. Don’t take moments for granted, don’t take seconds for granted.”
Said Louisville guard Skyy Clark, a onetime Kentucky commit who led the Cardinals with 19 points: “Even though we went 0-2, I think we showed that we can compete with some of the top teams in the country.”
Meantime, Knicks vice president William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley was courtside Sunday to watch UConn beat Indiana in the first game.
The defending national champion Huskies feature projected lottery pick Donovan Clingan, a 7-foot-2 sophomore.
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Adam Zagoria is a freelance reporter who covers Seton Hall and NJ college basketball for NJ Advance Media. You may follow him on Twitter @AdamZagoria and check out his Website at ZAGSBLOG.com.