Hawkeyes center gives squad toughness, grit and a team-first mentality
Video: Woodbury after Purdue
Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) cheers from the during the second half of a men's basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, February 8, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34), guard Peter Jok (3) and forward Aaron White (30) keep Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) from a rebound during the first half of a men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, January 31, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) on the sideline after fouling out during the second half of their NCAA Big Ten Conference men’s basketball game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. Minnesota won 64-59. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) sets up defense against Wisconsin Badgers forward Frank Kaminsky (44) during the second half of their NCAA Big Ten Conference men’s basketball game at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Wisconsin won 82-50. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A flagrant foul called on Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) as he and guard Mike Gesell (10) cover Maryland Terrapins guard Melo Trimble (2) during the first half of a men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, February 8, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) jumps for the basket over Purdue Boilermakers forward Caleb Swanigan (50) and center A.J. Hammons (20) during the second half of a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, January 24, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Penn State Nittany Lions center Jordan Dickerson (32) drives under Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) during the first half of a game during the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on Thursday, March 12, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury (34) drives toward Northwestern Wildcats center Alex Olah (22) during the first half of a men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, March 7, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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.
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.
For some in attendance, it was an exclamation point in a home blowout win over Michigan. For others, it was funny. For Lance and Brenda Woodbury, the shush moment was emblematic of the lack of appreciation toward their son.
“Like an offensive lineman, they don’t get any credit,” Lance Woodbury said. “That’s OK. He doesn’t care. But it’s hard when it’s your son getting ridiculed or beaten down by his own fans. That’s what’s hard. You expect it from the opposing fans. That’s a badge of honor. When it’s your own fans, that becomes harder to deal with.
“He grew up a Hawkeye. He’s wanted to play for the Hawkeyes since he was born. That was the toughest part of the deal. I’ve got a thicker skin than his mom does. Rightfully so. I know where some of it’s coming from, but it still doesn’t make it any easier. It’s tough.”
The most attention Woodbury has received at Iowa was for eye-poking incidents last season. In a loss at Wisconsin, Woodbury poked both Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky in the eye. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich called Woodbury “a gutless coward” for the episode. Three weeks later, Woodbury was whistled for poking Maryland guard Melo Trimble in the eye. This time, Woodbury was assessed a flagrant foul. It became a national topic.
Every time he talks about the pokes, Woodbury maintains they were accidental. Yet, as demonstrated by at least 10 student signs at Maryland on Thursday with the word “Poke” written on them, the situation follows him around.
“I didn’t try to be anybody that I wasn’t,” Woodbury said. “I knew what they were saying about me wasn’t true. So you’ve got to stay true to yourself in every aspect of your life. I stayed true to who I was and tried to get through it the best I could.
“It took a while for my parents. I’m not really on social media. I don’t get involved in that kind of stuff so it didn’t bother me like it did everybody. Obviously it was in the media for a long time so it affected them more than me. I just had to roll with it and let it play out.”
Dakich’s criticism still digs at Woodbury’s parents.
“It was very difficult for the family,” Lance Woodbury said. “It was harder on us than it was on him, I guarantee it. But we’ve learned to ignore it because of him. He stood tall and that’s what we had to do. We had to stand by him because knew better. We know what kind of person he is. It was unfair what handed down to him. Some of it still is.”
“(Adam has) always acted older than he truly is,” Brenda Woodbury said. “That’s his maturity and his level head. He has his bad days. We all have bad days. He can cope with it and he turns everything off if he has to. He can lean on his family. He knows we’re here for him. He knows that. I had to lean on him for that. Nobody tells the parents how to handle things like this. Nobody teaches you how to do this. This is the most difficult thing to watch your children go through. People don’t understand you are picking on somebody’s child. It’s not fair.”
Woodbury internalizes most — if not all — criticism and shrugs off the rest.
“That’s part of the fan base on every team,” Woodbury said. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad. When you’re losing, everything is worse than it is and you’re winning everything is better than it is. You’ve got to stay level ground and not get too high or too low.”
Unlike Woodbury, McCaffery attacks any whiff of negativity when it relates to his senior center.
“I couldn’t care less about what outsiders think about Adam Woodbury,” McCaffery said. “I’m quite frankly tired of talking about it. The guy’s a tremendous player. All we do is win games with him. I don’t know what else he has to do. I think you guys should stop talking about it.”
UNSELFISH TO A FAULT
About 45 minutes after dispatching Purdue at home, Woodbury stood about 20 feet from his family signing autographs for children. Woodbury asked questions and appeared engaged. It’s not unusual for him to sign dozens of autographs while talking to his friends and family outside Iowa’s locker room.
“He’s always been a real good person,” Lance Woodbury said. “He worked with kids when he was in high school. He went and had recesses and did stuff with the kids even before he came here. We couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s always been a real good kid.”
Woodbury, a two-time all-academic Big Ten honoree, will graduate in May with a double major in communications and sports studies. Once his basketball days end, Woodbury is interested in providing financial advice. In some ways that’s a metaphor for his Iowa career; helping others attain their goals without taking credit for it.
Early in the second half against Michigan two weeks ago, Woodbury had the ball down low with a decent shot. Instead, he drew in the defender and made a quick pass to a wide-open Jarrod Uthoff for an easy layup to turn a five-point lead into seven points. Uthoff, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, put up 23 points that day.
“It’s not always about me scoring,” Woodbury said. “I really appreciate trying to get my teammates involved. That’s really one of the key things I do on the court I hope to do every game out, whether it’s screening or passing, even rolling and trying to get the defense to collapse a little bit.
“Could I shoot more? Obviously. I could take more shots. I’ve tried not to force as many shots this year as I have in the past. I’ve just tried to continue to play my role on the team. I could obviously score more and things like that, but I’m all about winning.”
Woodbury took on a different role this year. He and former center Gabe Olaseni alternated at center for Woodbury’s first three years. Now Woodbury is Iowa’s lone true center. His minutes have increased by about four per game. He’s notching career highs in scoring average (9.0) and rebounding (a team-high 6.9).
But statistics never have defined Woodbury, and nor will they when his Iowa career ends in a couple of months. He’s a top communicator and tenacious defender. Few centers are better at setting screens for guards. For everything that he does, he’s Iowa’s most irreplaceable piece.
“He’s without a doubt the smartest post player I’ve ever had,” McCaffery said. “That’s what sometimes you don’t necessarily see, but if you’re there for the run-throughs and walk-throughs you recognize how valuable he is. His ability to recognize action ... he sees it and he communicates it and he not only guards it correctly, he also helps his teammate, who’s also involved in the action. Then he’s physical, he’s got great instincts for going to get the ball and positionally where to be.”
That was on display Thursday at Maryland in a 74-68 loss, the Hawkeyes’ first in Big Ten play. Woodbury, who posted 11 points and 10 rebounds, fouled out with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left and the Hawkeyes trailed by four points. On a vital possession a minute later, Maryland’s Diamond Stone dunked on a post feed where there was miscommunication on defense. Maryland still might have scored on that possession, but the breakdown was obvious with Woodbury’s absence.
“His presence defensively changes the game,” Uthoff said. “He’s 7-foot, 255 so not playing him in the post and directing traffic in the middle of the paint is essential for us.
“He does all the dirty work. He rebounds like ... not a human. He rebounds really well, he sets screens, gets people open. He knocks down midrange jumpers, he finishes at the rim. He does a lot for us.”
Woodbury is 220 points shy of reaching 1,000 in his career. He might earn some honorable mention all-Big Ten acclaim and is sure to play pro basketball well past Iowa. He has posted three consecutive double-doubles, a feat no Iowa player has accomplished in 10 years.
But his impact soars beyond the statistics. The way he screens allows Iowa’s point guards to find open shooters. How he defends in the paint deters guards from driving the lane. The toughness he displays in grabbing rebounds and his on-court communication make him the ultimate team player. And team players want the team to win. He’s simply a product of his environment.
“I have great parents, honestly,” he said. “The family I grew up in, where I came from, Sioux City. It’s a hardworking town. It’s just a matter of life. A lot of good things have come my way and adverse things. You’ve got to continue to take the good with the bad and continue to fight just prove to everyone who you really are.”
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