Hawk centers grow together

BY DANNY PAYNE | MARCH 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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Anytime two players play the same position on the same team and have similar productivity, there’s going to be a controversy over who should start and who should come off the bench.

Exhibit A: Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni

“I think over the years, people have always had this back-and-forth thing about me and Woody about who should start and who should come off the bench,” Olaseni said.

But as exemplified in Iowa’s win over Northwestern on Senior Day, that controversy does not have a negative effect on the centers, at least in Iowa’s case. Olaseni hugged his teammate after he was told he would make the first start of career.

A brief, small sign, but the hug isn’t the only thing.

The two have contrasting styles — Woodbury isn’t an above the rim type of player, and Olaseni makes his living on blocked shots, dunks, etc. While Woodbury dunks are few and far between, and it will likely stay that way, that doesn’t mean the two don’t help each other.

From head coach Fran McCaffery’s perspective, the advantage of having those two compete daily is simple.

“At some point, you’re going to play against somebody in our league that plays like Gabe or Woody,” McCaffery said. “But in this case, they are both going at it hard. They are going to essentially see somebody that size when we play, so I think that’s important.”

However, for the players, the reasoning is a tad different. Sure, that practice time and preparation is useful, but what they learn from each other *and* take from each other is prominent.

“He’s a great player; he does a lot of different things that I can’t do on the court,” Woodbury said. “He’s tried to show me different things that he does, and I’ve tried to help him out in different ways as well.”

Of those things, the biggest thing Woodbury said he’s learned from his teammate is his mentality. Although it may sound cliché, Woodbury said he admires and tries to replicate the senior’s work ethic and businesslike approach on a daily basis.

That’s something that has taken Olaseni some time to nail down. The native of London said he would get down on himself after a mistake early in his career, and he struggled with not starting.

“Early on, I was adamant about starting, because as a young kid when you come here, you want all the limelight and all the glory,” Olaseni said. “But you have to humble yourself and understand that it is a team sport.”

That realization played a large part in Iowa having its best season in both Woodbury’s and Olaseni’s careers. It’s helped Iowa, too — Olaseni and Woodbury have combined for 21.7 percent of Iowa’s points this season, up from 15.8 percent last year.

Of course, that stat doesn’t tell the whole story — Iowa has relied on its big men more this year after the departure of Devyn Marble, among other things. But the bottom line is simple: The two have been counted on more, and they have performed.

Olaseni was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year on Monday, and Woodbury had his best season in an Iowa uniform, improving from previous years in points, rebounds, and steals. That’s not to say Woodbury’s success wouldn’t have happened without Olaseni or vice versa, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

“I think everyone just understand their role,” Olaseni said. “I feel as though I could’ve complained the whole year, saying I wanted to start or I wanted to play a bigger role offensively … but just understanding what the team needs and sacrificing for the team.”

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

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