- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Thirty-two years ago, Mike Woodson was a fresh-faced New York Knicks rookie, learning valuable lessons from one of the best basketball minds in the business.
"I remember playing for a great coach in Red Holzman who taught me that rookies were to sit and listen and learn. ... I did. I sat and I listened," Woodson said. "And I learned a lot."
Things have now come full circle for the 53-year-old coach.
Woodson is being called upon to teach the Knicks how to win again. And he doesn't have much time to make it happen.
On Wednesday afternoon, after Mike D'Antoni resigned, Woodson took over a Knicks team that was on a six-game losing streak, six games under .500 and in a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Not what you'd call ideal working conditions.
"It was a surprise to me," Woodson said Thursday after his first practice as the Knicks' interim head coach. "I wasn't expecting this. But again, I'm not scared of the challenge, either. I'm looking forward to this opportunity."
If you want to know how Woodson will handle his opportunity with the Knicks, look no further than the coaches he's played for and coached with. It's a venerable crew that stressed accountability above all else.
He was a two-time All-American at Indiana under Bobby Knight and played his rookie season in the NBA under Holzman in New York in 1980-81.
Woodson cited Knight as one of his coaching mentors. "A big influence, without a doubt," he said.
Woodson also served as an assistant for Larry Brown, most recently in Detroit, where he helped architect a defense that propelled the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title.
But you have to go back a little further to find out where Woodson's coaching roots took hold. Go back to the gymnasium at Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis. That's where Woodson worked for countless hours on his craft under the tutelage of Bill Smith.
"His character and his work ethic and his effort were things that really stood out to me," Smith said by phone Thursday. "He was a player that knew what to do and how to do it. He did things right."
Doing things right. Playing the game the right way. These are things that have stuck with Woodson in the 35 years since his last game at Broad Ripple.
He expects the same thing of his players today. Woodson has stressed the importance of accountability several times during his first two days since the Knicks promoted him from his role as one of D'Antoni's assistants.
"I'm going to do everything I can possibly do to win basketball games; that's my job," Woodson said Wednesday after New York's 42-point win over Portland. "I'm going to be held accountable and I'm going to make damn sure that [the players are] held accountable to win."
Clearly, Woodson isn't one to mince words with players. Carmelo Anthony says the newest Knicks coach has no problem calling out players in front of their teammates. That's a trait that was often missing under D'Antoni.
But it's also one that got Woodson into trouble in his first head-coaching gig, in Atlanta. He and forward Josh Smith often butted heads, with Smith reportedly taking umbrage with Woodson's in-your-face approach.
"If you go back to the Atlanta days, maybe that hurt me some," Woodson said. "I want the best for our players and I want the best for our organization. So it's my job to push and demand and try to get guys to play at a high level."
The Hawks increased their win total in each of Woodson's six seasons as coach. But Atlanta's management decided against renewing Woodson's contract after the team was swept by the Magic in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, losing by an average margin of 25 points.
Woodson took the following season off before joining the Knicks to help shore up the team's defense.
When the hiring was announced, some speculated Woodson would take over for D'Antoni if the Knicks struggled. Still, Woodson -- like many others in the organization -- was surprised when he heard Wednesday that D'Antoni had decided to step down. He was even more stunned when he found out he'd be coaching that night against the Blazers.
Now Woodson has just 23 games to get things turned around.
"We can't undo what's been done," he said. "I feel good about moving forward with this team.
"We're going to continue to push and try to get the most out of this team as we can to be where we need to be," he added, "and that's the playoffs."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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