this Jan. 24, 2016, file photo, Iowa center Adam
Woodbury drives to the basket during the second half
of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue in
Iowa City, Iowa. Woodbury, a senior, has been crucial
for the Hawkeyes in their best season in decades.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa's
Adam Woodbury is often viewed as the blue-chip recruit who
never lived up to expectations.
Those who have watched
Woodbury closely this season might argue he's developed into
one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten. The
7-foot-1 senior is among a handful of Hawkeyes who have
helped push the program near the top of the rankings.
Woodbury is averaging a
career-high 8.5 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds, with
four double-doubles in his last seven outings while guiding
a resurgent defense. Woodbury and the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes
(19-4, 10-1 Big Ten) play Thursday at Indiana (19-5, 9-2) in
one of the program's most important road games in years.
"It obviously feels nice
to be appreciated. But for the few people who didn't
appreciate me, it kind of gave me the motivation to work
even harder," Woodbury said. "The good comes with
the bad and the bad comes with the good. You've got to take
the good out of everything in life."
Woodbury has been so good of
late— especially in Big Ten play — that his critics have
finally run out of things to say about him.
The prep star from Sioux
City, Iowa, was a top-50 prospect that coaches from all over
the country, including North Carolina, wanted to sign. But
Woodbury stuck with coach Fran McCaffery and his home-state
Hawkeyes. His commitment to a then-downtrodden program was
the first sign to many that Iowa was set to turn a corner,
inadvertently making expectations for Woodbury nearly
impossible to meet.
Iowa never ended up needing
Woodbury to be a savior. He and teammates made slow, steady
progress before this breakout season has them atop the Big
Ten standings a month before the league tournament.
Woodbury was named a starter
as a true freshman, averaging 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.
He essentially mirrored those numbers as a sophomore,
helping Iowa reached its first NCAA Tournament in eight
Last season, Woodbury's
numbers went up to 6.6 points and 5.2 rebounds as he and
Gabe Olaseni formed one of the league's best center duos.
But the athletic Olaseni often overshadowed Woodbury's
steady efforts off the bench.
"It's easy for the
average fan to look at a guy who's 7-foot and think that he
should be the next Shaq, dunking on everyone," said
teammate Mike Gesell, one of Woodbury's closest friends.
"That's not his game. His game is really the 'dirty
work' guy, the leader on this team. The guy that does all
the things that don't necessarily show up in the stat
The progress Woodbury made as
a junior, again contributing to an NCAA Tournament team, was
nearly surpassed by a controversy over poking opposing
players in the eye.
Woodbury poked Frank Kaminsky,
Nigel Hayes and Melo Trimble in the eye in separate games
last season, putting him in the national spotlight for the
Woodbury insisted the pokes
were inadvertent, and he was never disciplined. But the
controversy, combined with those shrug-worthy statistics,
made Woodbury an easy target for opposing fans.
"They can say what they
want to. I have no control over what they say about me. I've
just got to be true to myself and who I am," Woodbury
With Olaseni gone, Woodbury
has blossomed as a senior. His shooting percentage (.570)
and free-throw percentage (.766) are also career highs. But
his biggest contribution to the Hawkeyes has been on
Woodbury's teammates, most
notably guards like Gesell and Peter Jok, give credit for
their much-improved defense to Woodbury's ability to direct
them from the post.
"His role is obviously
much more critical than it's ever been," McCaffery
said. "The way he anchors the defense and the
communication that he provides and the rebounding ... he
doesn't make mistakes, he's scoring the ball and he provides
an element of toughness that I think every team needs."