IOWA CITY — Iowa freshman Adam Woodbury has not scored more than eight points in any Big Ten game, yet his coach refuses to label him a disappointment.
To the contrary, in fact. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery likes the development of his 7-foot-1 center and the impact he has on his team. It’s just going to take time for Woodbury to develop as a scoring threat.
“He was a top-30 player,” McCaffery said. “I think people look at that and immediately figure that he’s going to be getting us more baskets. But that was never really who he was. He was a guy that could move his feet. He was a guy that was going to be physical and tough. He was going to be able to rebound and outlet the ball, run and play in the transition game, move his feet on ball screens defensively and affect the game that way. He could pass. He could put on the deck a little bit. He’s got a pretty complete skill set that way.
“I think once he comes to grips with all of that and doesn’t put incredible pressure on himself to have to be a scorer, then I think what you’re going to see is a guy that really is effective.”
Woodbury, 19, was a three-time all-state selection at Sioux City East. Rivals, Scout and ESPN ranked him among the top 50 players entering college this year. He’s started all 27 games and averages 4.8 points and 15.9 minutes a game — ninth on the team. But Woodbury is second in rebounding at 5.1 per game, ranking 21st the Big Ten.
“You’ve heard me say many times, if I played him a ton of minutes and he stayed out of foul trouble, he would lead the league in rebounding,” McCaffery said. “I think he’s put a lot of pressure on himself to be a scorer. He’s going to affect his game with his defense, rebound and running more than anything else.”
Many fans associate success based strictly on points so Woodbury has fallen short of their expectations. After averaging more than 17 points a game in his final three seasons in high school, Woodbury has had to adjust his own goals based on his lack of scoring. It’s been an ongoing process.
“I feel like I’m growing each and every day so I’m happy with that,” he said. “But I think if you reach a point where you’re happy and settled with that, I think that you need to walk away. So I continue to keep gaining strides in my career, and I’m just trying to work hard every day to get better. It hasn’t always been easy, but I knew coming into this it wasn’t going to be. It takes a lot of hard work, and I’m willing to do it.
“I couldn’t care less with what other people think.”
But people see how other young centers, like Purdue freshman A.J. Hammons, contribute offensively and question why Woodbury doesn’t match their statistics. Hammons averages nearly 11 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, but he brings a different style of play. Purdue features a different style of offense, which highlights his skills.
“I think A.J. Hammons is a really good, young big guy,” Iowa assistant Andrew Francis said. “Very good footwork, great hands, good touch around the rim. Woody, comparably, is good around the rim but in a different way. He’s got some back-to-the-basket moves, he faces up and has really good touch on his jump shot that he doesn’t always display, that he’s starting to come around and display a little bit more. A.J. Hammons is built a little bit different from Woody. Wider body, longer arms, Woody has good size but not as wide in the body. They approach it a little different.
“They do play the same position, and they do impact their teams with their presence in the middle. I think what we have, we have a couple of guys around Woody that can continue to help his growth and development as far as taking some of the pressure off of him scoring. What Hammons brings to Purdue is a great scoring presence out in the post, and they need him to put up bigger numbers. He’s been putting up some great numbers.”
Both players have had inconsistent streaks this season. Hammons scored 30 points against top-ranked Indiana, yet only two against Illinois and Michigan. He didn’t start and played only 12 minutes against Northwestern on Sunday. Woodbury combined for only 18 in Iowa’s last two games because of foul trouble.
Purdue coach Matt Painter sees the comparison between Hammons and Woodbury as relevant, if only because of their age and position.
“I think both of these guys are going to be very good players in this league,” Painter said. “I think what you see sometimes is some of the inconsistent play but that’s very normal for a really young, big kid. You’ve just got to stay with it and keep working with him and you normally see that big jump between their freshman and sophomore year or sophomore to junior. It just depends on the player.”
Former Illinois center Meyers Leonard, who was drafted 11th overall by Portland last June, took major strides between his freshman and sophomore seasons. As a freshman, the 7-1 Leonard averaged 8.2 minutes and 2.1 points a game. Last year, he averaged 13.6 points in 31.8 minutes.
“I think Adam Woodbury is more of a low-post type guy than Meyers Leonard,” Painter said. “It’s like A.J. Hammons in that they’re different. We’re always trying to draw comparisons when you’ve got to take a guy for what he’s worth and get him play to his strengths and really get him to work on his weaknesses in the off-season. I do grant the comparison in what you’re seeing in terms of the improvement.
“I think Woodbury can be an all-conference-type player in our league. I think that’s what Meyers Leonard was able to do, was make that big jump. With that being said, Meyers Leonard wasn’t all-conference last year.”
Woodbury will work on several areas of his game before next year. Francis highlighted his footwork, strength and patience on offense as needed areas of improvement. McCaffery said Woodbury has to learn how to score over people with better angles and release points. Woodbury acknowledges all of those areas, plus improving free-throw shooting and avoiding fouls.
But toughness isn’t one of them. That’s a natural asset for Woodbury.
“My brother used to kick my ass every single day so he’s got it in my mind just to be tough out there,” Woodbury said. “He’s really been the key to my success as well.
“I’ve tried to never be scared out there. If you’re intimidated on the court, you’re in a lot of trouble.”