Iowa big man Adam Woodbury silences critics

Associated Press

February 11, 2016

In 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 years.

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 sheet."

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 wrong reasons.

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 said.

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 defense.

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."

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