IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery is annoyed with still having to defend Adam Woodbury as a basketball player.
I learned that on Friday after asking McCaffery on a teleconference why outsiders still seem to not fully appreciate and understand the value of his 7-foot-1 senior center.
“I couldn’t care less what outsiders think of Adam Woodbury, I really couldn’t,” McCaffery fired back. “And quite frankly, I’m tired of talking about it.
“The guy is a tremendous player. All we do is win games with him and I don’t know what else he has to do. And I think you guys should stop talking about it.”
I wrote a column last season that defended Woodbury, who at the time was being ridiculed and made out to be a villain after he had inadvertently poked three opposing players in the eye. I praised Woodbury for his toughness and leadership and said he was under-appreciated as a player.
I called him the heart and soul of Iowa’s team and said that he was misunderstood by the national media.
So maybe McCaffery is right. This topic has been discussed enough to where it’s almost a disservice to Woodbury to keep bringing it up. McCaffery is tired of defending a player who doesn’t need defended.
McCaffery has a right to be sensitive because Woodbury has been an easy target, even for some Iowa fans. His reluctance to dunk the ball in games has been the source of jokes and ridicule, but not as much lately with ninth-ranked Iowa playing so well.
Given a second chance to ask McCaffery a question, I stayed on topic with Woodbury, but focused on his impact on the court.
Woodbury’s effectiveness was in full display during the second half of Thursday’s 90-76 victory at Rutgers. He recorded his third double-double this season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. But he also had two blocks, one steal, one assist, and put on a clinic for showing how to throw outlet passes that lead to points in transition.
“He has done a terrific job of rebounding the ball, but he immediately has his head up just like a quarterback that’s looking at all of his options,” said McCaffery, who is in his sixth season as the Iowa coach. “He doesn’t just look at the point guard who is in the outlet area. And some guys do that. He’s got his head up and he’ll throw it to any one of the other four players on the floor because we’re going to take off.
“And that’s what he does. He’s not afraid to throw it. He throws it at the right time. Because as you know, if you throw it late or you throw it early, it’s probably going to be a turnover.”
It’s probably no coincidence that Iowa struggled in the first half against Rutgers with Woodbury on the bench in foul trouble. He picked up two early fouls and only played seven minutes in the first half.
Rutgers had success in getting to the basket without Woodbury there to protect the rim.
Up next for Woodbury on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is the ultimate challenge against Purdue, at least from Woodbury’s perspective. Purdue features arguably the best one-two center combination in the country in 7-0 senior A.J. Hammons and 7-2, 297-pound sophomore Isaac Haas.
Some might rank Woodbury as the third best center in Sunday’s game, but he has the advantage right now where it counts the most.
Iowa defeated Purdue 70-63 on Jan. 2 in West Lafayette, Ind. Woodbury only scored six points, but he led the effort to contain Purdue’s twin towers, who combined for just 17 points.
Hammons and Haas combined to make 8-of-10 shots in the first game, but they took so few attempts largely because of Woodbury’s presence.
Players ultimately should be judged by wins and losses, and right now Woodbury is excelling in that area. Iowa has improved in each of his four seasons in the program.
A victory over Purdue would make Iowa 7-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1970 when Ralph Miller led his legendary “Six Pack” to a 14-0 conference mark.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen without Woodbury’s contributions.
McCaffery made that point abundantly clear on Friday.