IOWA CITY, Iowa – Adam Woodbury will go down in history as one of the tallest Iowa basketball players, but also as one of the most under-appreciated and misunderstood.
I have felt that way for a while.
Woodbury certainly doesn’t need me to fight his battles. He might not even feel the same way about how he’s perceived or about how he’s treated.
But I still feel he deserves more respect for who is on and off the court.
The motivation to write this column came on Sunday when one of my colleagues tweeted that Woodbury had made a vicious one-handed slam while playing in the Prime Time League.
Predictably, his tweet was met with snarky comments in reference to Woodbury having made few dunks as a Hawkeye during real prime.
It’s no secret that the 7-foot-1 Woodbury often plays below the rim despite his height advantage. He seems more comfortable attempting a 10-foot jumper than trying to rattle the rim with a get-out-my-way dunk.
There are times when Woodbury’s reluctance to attack the rim probably has cost him some buckets as a Hawkeye. That was especially true early in college as Woodbury adjusted to a new level of play against taller opponents.
But that shouldn’t overshadow everything else Woodbury brings to the team in terms of leadership, toughness and versatility in the post.
Unfortunately, though, for some it does.
If they’re not poking fun at Woodbury’s lack of dunking prowess, they’re joking about the three incidents in which he accidentally poked an opposing player in the eye last season while playing defense.
I almost regret bringing that up because neither missed dunks nor eye pokes should have any influence on Woodbury’s Hawkeye legacy.
What I will choose to remember about Woodbury are all the little things he does to help bring success and how the team has improved in each of his three seasons. Woodbury might back down from the rim every now and then, but he never will back down from an opposing player or from a challenge.
Ask members of the Iowa men’s basketball team which of their teammates they would want to accompany them through a dark alley and chances are that most would say Woodbury. But not just because of his size.
Woodbury is the unquestioned emotional leader of the team despite his modest 5.7 career scoring average. He leads with his words, with his hustle and with his desire.
Barely a 40 percent free throw shooter in high school, Woodbury has worked hard to improve that part of his game in college. He made 71 percent of his free throws as a sophomore and has 60.5 career average at Iowa.
Incoming freshman forward Ahmad Wagner already has benefited from Woodbury’s strong presence.
“Woodbury is a great player,” Wagner said Sunday after playing in the Prime Time League. “He’s a good guy. He likes to talk to me a lot on and off the court. And I’m just looking forward to playing with him this season.”
Woodbury was in Wagner’s shoes just three years ago as an incoming freshman for the Hawkeyes. Woodbury was a more heralded recruit than Wagner coming out of high school, but they still have some similarities.
Wagner probably won’t be a primary scorer for Iowa early in his career, but he still could be a key contributor, much like Woodbury was as a freshman.
“I’m just trying to get him to stay even-keel,” Woodbury said. “When you’re young like that, it’s tough, maybe you have an off-shooting night and you get down on yourself. But he can rebound and he runs real well.
“So he does a lot of different things on the court that might not be scoring. A lot of people put a lot of stock into scoring points. But if you do other things to affect the game, I think that’s going to help our team.”
Woodbury knows that from experience. He is proof that you don’t have to be a prolific scorer to impact a game.
The problem for Woodbury is that much of what he does on the court goes unnoticed by the casual fan. Many of the baskets that Iowa scores in transition often are the result of a Woodbury outlet pass that triggered the break.
He also excels at playing help defense and you won’t find a better center when it comes to setting high and low screens in a half-court set.
Woodbury often does the dirty work so his teammates have a clean path to the basket.
It says something about Woodbury’s character that he would accept being a role player on offense despite all the accolades he earned while attending Sioux City East High School. Woodbury was ranked among the top 50 players nationally in his senior class. He turned down a long list of schools, including North Carolina, because he wanted to stay home and be a Hawkeye.
Woodbury took a leap of faith by coming to Iowa during the early stages of Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding project. Woodbury could’ve picked a more stable program, but he took a chance on McCaffery and the Hawkeyes.
Both sides are now better for it.
I would like to think that most Iowa fans appreciate Woodbury’s contributions as a student-athlete. In addition to starting 104 of 105 games as a Hawkeye, he also twice has made academic all-Big Ten.
Unfortunately, for Woodbury, he is held to a different standard by some fans simply because of his reputation coming out of high school. No matter what he does, it’s not enough to please all the fans.
Having the right attitude means a great deal to Woodbury. It’s one of the first things he tries to learn about a new teammate.
“I haven’t seen any attitudes yet,” Woodbury said of the incoming players. “Attitude is a big thing for us. If you come in with an open mind and are willing to work hard, I think you’re going to mesh well with everybody.
“We have a lot of hard workers on our team, new guys and old. So if you’re able to do that, I think you’ll be just fine. Just know your role and do it to the best of your ability.”
Few have done that better than Woodbury has at Iowa. I just wish more fans would appreciate him.