IOWA CITY — Adam Woodbury stood against a table at a Carver-Hawkeye Arena club room with an aura of accomplishment and a smile across his face.
The 7-foot-1 Iowa center battled fiercely with Purdue’s power tandem of A.J. Hammons (7 feet) and Isaac Haas (7-foot-2) for 23 minutes. Woodbury gave up 30 pounds to Haas and some width to Hammons. Yet the Iowa senior more than held his own, grabbing 10 rebounds and scoring 13 points. That outpaced the Hammons-Haas duo, which combined for 11 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes.
In the land of giants, Woodbury not only survived, he won. And so did his team, 83-71.
“If you’ve never been in a fight down low, you don’t really know what it is,” Woodbury said. “It’s tough to explain. But it’s a battle every possession, offensively, defensively, it’s always a battle. It’s fun though. You really get to see what you’re made of, how tough you really are.”
Toughness never has been an issue for Woodbury, who brought that mind-set into Iowa from his first day in summer workouts. He’s battled expectations his whole life, then at times added opponents, national media and even his own fans to the list. Yet through it all, Woodbury remains personable and engaging. He cracks jokes in interview sessions and adds self-deprecating humor. He doesn’t take himself seriously, but he’s all business when it comes to his Hawkeyes.
“He’s the ultimate team player,” said his father, Lance Woodbury.
Woodbury came to Iowa’s campus as one of the nation’s top 50 recruits. He was a three-time all-state honoree at Sioux City East and played AAU basketball for the All-Iowa Attack. His size, ability to run and team-first attitude attracted the nation’s top coaches. Woodbury couldn’t shake Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery, who attended each of his AAU games in 2010 and 2011. After whittling his list to Iowa and North Carolina, Woodbury chose the Hawkeyes.
Landing Woodbury was a big deal for McCaffery. It changed the program’s perception and ended Roy Williams’ poaching of the state’s highest-ranked recruits. On the court, it gave the Hawkeyes a force in the middle and on the boards.
Immediate statistical success was fleeting for Woodbury and remains so even today. He didn’t post superstar statistics as a freshman, averaging 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds while starting 38 games. He wasn’t a go-to scoring threat and missed some shots close to the basket. He had a similar role as a sophomore, averaging 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds.
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That led to some fans taking shots at Woodbury on social media. He heard boos from the student section. He plays mostly below the rim and rarely dunks, which led to questions about his dunking ability. So on Feb. 8, 2014, Woodbury completed a fast-break with a slam, then turned toward the crowd and gave a “shush” sign.