Woodbury faces the criticism, or rather ignores it


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It’s perhaps the defining image of Adam Woodbury’s two and a half years at Iowa.

In the second half of Iowa’s 85-67 throttling of Michigan last season, Woodbury received a pass on a fast break, reached back with his left hand, and threw down a dunk.

After the dunk, the 7-1 center turned around, lifted his right index finger to his mouth and shushed the crowd.

His own crowd.

Since Woodbury first donned the Hawkeye black and gold, he’s been the most criticized player on Iowa’s roster.

Maybe it’s because out of high school, he was heralded as the player who chose Iowa over prestigious North Carolina, or despite the fact the junior stands more than 7 feet, it’s a recurring joke that he can’t dunk. More likely, it’s a combination of numerous factors.

Whatever the reasons may be, they’ve dumbfounded those who coach and play with him.

“Never seen anything like it in my life,” head coach Fran McCaffery said about the criticism of his center, who had just posted 13 points and 10 rebounds against Ohio State. “All that kid does is work his tail off every facet of everything he does, and he’s got unbelievable character, represents the institution, his family, and he gets criticized unfairly.

“You know, he is who he is. And I’ll tell you what, I’ll take him on my team any day.”

The praise Woodbury receives from his coaches and those who play with him comes from the small things. His value to Iowa is hard to measure statistically, and no one knows that more than Woodbury himself.

But largely, what Woodbury brings to the Hawkeyes is toughness and defense. Not defense in the obvious sense, rather the more intricate aspects, such as hedging a pick and roll, defensive rotations, and communicating.

“You know, what’s important about that is a lot of guys talk, OK? What are you saying?” McCaffery said. “… When he’s talking, he’s right. And they do what he says, and they listen to him. The way that that affects your team defensive concept is immeasurable, because they can’t hear me, but they can hear him.”

Woodbury says he doesn’t hear the criticism, although he obviously heard enough to prompt shushing the crowd.

He also seems somewhat understanding of the heat he takes, or at least understanding that a center who prides himself on getting on the floor, setting a good screen, or making a smart defensive play isn’t something that will necessarily put fans in the stands.

That doesn’t mean teammates won’t notice these small details, though. Or at the very least, feel them.

“He sets the best screens that I’ve ever played with,” said Mike Gesell, who also played with Woodbury in AAU basketball. “In practice, I hate being on the opposite team of him because I know I’m getting a charley horse. He just gets guys open, plays great defense in the post, especially before his guy gets the ball.”

While he doesn’t provide the highlights, so to say, Woodbury has taken significant steps in his game.

His face-up jumper has improved, his rebounding numbers are as high as they’ve been since he got to Iowa, and he’s getting to the free-throw line at the highest rate of his career.

“It might not always be pretty; I can’t get above the rim and dunk like Whitey or Gabe [Olaseni],” Woodbury said. “I’m a below-the-rim guy, and that’s not always what fans want to see. Fans want to see highlights, highlight blocks, stuff like that. I just try to do the little things to help us win.”

In Iowa’s next contest, Woodbury will face perhaps his toughest test since he showed up at Iowa. That task is facing one of the best players in the country in Frank Kaminsky, who just so happens to play for one of the best teams in the country, No. 6 Wisconsin.

During the game, there will no doubt be more criticism. One scroll through Twitter will confirm that.
If a player blows past Woodbury, people will say he’s too slow. If he gets blocked, he can’t jump.

But no matter what criticism he receives, he’ll continue to be appreciated by those around him on a daily basis.

“Everybody has their own opinion; everybody can say what they want to say,” Woodbury said. “We live in a free country, so I can’t let that bother me. I got to go play my game, and whether they like it or not, I’m still going to be here.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.

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