IOWA CITY, Iowa - Roy Williams has reveled in raiding Iowa for its top prospects during the last two decades. He pulled future NBA first-round draft picks Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich and Harrison Barnes out of the state.
In January of 2011, Williams landed would-be McDonald's All-American Marcus Paige out of Marion Linn-Mar. He then set his sights on Top 50 recruit, Adam Woodbury, from Sioux City East. Paige and Woodbury played AAU together.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery faced a huge challenge. Paige was out of his reach but he still had a shot at Woodbury. He worked hard to stop Williams' thievery.
McCaffery took over a program in shambles a year earlier and tried to sell hope to prospects. The day he was hired by the Hawkeyes, he traveled to meet with Woodbury and Mike Gesell, a four-star guard from South Sioux City, NE. The coach continued to visit them and attend all of their AAU games with Martin Brothers.
The heavy pursuit paid off. Despite Woodbury raising his stock significantly in the summer of '11, highlighted by winning MVP honors at the NBA Camp, he chose Iowa head of Williams' North Carolina squad and Big Ten Power Ohio State, among others. Gesell followed his big man after turning down programs like Iowa State, Stanford, Creighton, Nebraska and Utah.
The recruiting coup marked an important time in McCaffery's rebuilding project. The off-court victory convinced many on-lookers that wins on the floor were imminent.
That's happened. The Hawkeyes reached the NIT championship game when Woodbury and Gesell were freshmen. As sophomores last winter, they played a role in leading the program to its first NCAA Tournament since '06.
Now, it's time for this duo to do more. The success of this team depends upon it.
Woodbury and Gesell boast the top pedigrees on the team. Woodbury is Scout.com's 47th-ranked player nationally in the '12 Recruiting Class and the No. 14 center. The service rates as the No. 84 overall prospect that year and No. 15 point guard.
McCaffery invested a lot in them on the recruiting trail and in their first two years on campus. The 7-foot-1, 245-pound Woodbury has started all 71 games of his career. Gesell started all 33 contests last year and 30 as a freshman. He broke his foot his first year and missed time or he likely would have started all the games since he arrived on campus.
Woodbury and Gesell have contributed to the continued ascent up the Big Ten standings, to be sure. They've done it as complementary pieces.
Consider that Gesell joined Dean Oliver and Jeff Horner as the only Hawkeyes in program history to amass 550 or more points, 200 or more assists, 150 or more rebounds and at least 75 steals in their first two seasons. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder ranked 13th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.0).
"Down the stretch, when you needed a play, (Marble) went out and made it,' Gesell said. "I feel like that is something I could really do for this team."
Woodbury's statistics haven't been as loud as Gesell's. He's averaged 5.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 16.7 minutes a game. But the 7-footer has shown a high basketball IQ, understanding how to screen, pass, get the ball out on the break, and help and recover on defense.
"(Marble) was our second-half guy. He was our go-to guy whenever we needed a bucket," Woodbury said. "He had the ball in his hands looking to create. That was fine with me. This year, I think I'll have more of a presence on the offensive end. I really worked hard and I think it's going to show."
It's ideal when you build a program that doesn't need underclassmen to be stars. If they are, great, but it's also nice when they can develop. Then, as juniors and seniors, they take the reigns.
While White replaces Marble as the face of the program this winter, and Jarrod Uthoff receives attention for his high ceiling, this team will go as far as Woodbury and Gesell take it. White could raise his game up to the next level, and that would help, but he figures to be all-Big Ten level. He needs help beyond Uthoff.
Woodbury showed his potential at the NCAA Tournament when he posted 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds against a formidable Tennessee front line. He was awarded the team's defensive player of the year award and also lifted his free throw percentage from 51 to 71.
McCaffery needs to draw more out of his center. Woodbury must avoid foul trouble that's plagued him at times in his career. When he's on the floor, the coaches should run many more plays through the post.
Gesell also has struggled with inconsistency. His value to the team would increase if he becomes better at finishing at the basket. More importantly, he needs to be better with his on-ball defense.
These are reasonable expectations for Woodbury and Gesell. They're talented. The own the experience of going through two Big Ten seasons.
Point guard and center perhaps are the two most difficult and demanding positions on the court. Growing pains can be expected.
At some juncture, those lessons and development should pay off. Now is that time for for Woodbury and Gesell.