Steve Woodberry back on the bench

Super-sub-turned-starter pays dues as coach

By Gary Bedore,, Sunday, December 27, 2009


Former Kansas University standout Steve Woodberry watches a recent Missouri State University game from the bench. Woodberry is in his fourth year as an assistant at the Springfield, Mo., school.

Former Kansas University standout Steve Woodberry watches a recent Missouri State University game from the bench. Woodberry is in his fourth year as an assistant at the Springfield, Mo., school.

Steve Woodberry — who played on two Final Four teams and three Big Eight title squads at Kansas University before embarking on a pro basketball career in Australia, Lithuania, Greece, Finland and Sweden — doesn’t boast about his own accomplishments on the recruiting trail.

“I try not to. If guys ask me where I played, I tell them,” said Woodberry, a 38-year-old, fourth-year assistant coach at Missouri State University, who speaks as softly and humbly now as he did during his years at KU.

“I try to get to know the kids. In the beginning, I’m not too serious with them. I like to laugh and joke with them. I think that’s the same in talking to anybody. You want to make them feel comfortable.”

Woodberry’s philosophy should come as no surprise to KU fans, who remember the 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard/forward as one of the most unselfish players in school history.

The former Wichita South standout, who played for coach Roy Williams from 1990-94, was a key reserve for three seasons. He finally became a starter his senior year and led the Jayhawks in scoring at 15.5 points per game.

“I could have started earlier. For me it was all about winning,” said Woodberry, the 30th-leading scorer in school history. “Some guys want to start, which is fine. Coach Williams said I could start and play or come off the bench and play the same minutes.”

There were reasons he didn’t start until Year Four, and none had to do with his ability.

“My sophomore year we had Alonzo (Jamison) and Adonis (Jordan). My junior year we brought in Darrin Hancock. He (Hancock) came in with all the accolades. For the betterment of the team, it was better he start,” Woodberry said.

“He was a McDonald’s All-American and had a great juco career. It might have bothered him if he didn’t start. I already did it a year and just wanted to win.”

KU, of course, did win big during the 1992-93 season, taking the league title before advancing to the Final Four. Woodberry’s unselfishness was rewarded when he was named a second-team Associated Press All-Big Eight pick — an honor normally reserved for high-profile starters, not key reserves.

“It was great to hear people saying I was the best sixth man in the country. The best part was we were winning,” Woodberry said of the 29-7 Jayhawks.

KU went 27-8 his senior year. It turned out to be a rebuilding year with a freshman class that included Scot Pollard and Jacque Vaughn.

“It was nice to get my name announced every game,” said Woodberry, also named second-team all-league his senior season. “It didn’t make a difference, but it was nice.”

He stressed that he wasn’t the only player willing to do the little things during his KU career, one in which the Jayhawks claimed 110 wins against 28 losses.

“We were labeled as overachievers,” Woodberry said. “We won a lot of games, but didn’t have a lot of McDonald’s All-Americans. Calling us that was fine with me. I was never highly recruited or anything.”

A starter during his decade-long pro career, Woodberry had his best six years in Australia, where he was named MVP of the Aussie League one season and all-league two other times. Upon retiring in 2005, the smooth-shooting Woodberry decided to become a coach.

He worked for current KU staff member Barry Hinson two years at Missouri State. After Hinson’s firing, he accepted a position on the staff of Cuonzo Martin, who played college ball at the same time as Woodberry. In fact, Martin and Glenn Robinson helped Purdue claim an 83-78 Sweet 16 victory over the Jayhawks, ending Woodberry’s college career on March 24, 1994 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Martin’s second Missouri State team is off to a 10-1 start after suffering through an 11-20 season a year ago.

“So far it’s been fun,” Woodberry said of the 2009-10 season. “Guys are putting forth the effort every day to get to the level we are at right now.”

Woodberry — his specialty is working with the guards — thoroughly enjoys coaching mid-major-caliber players. Missouri State, which is located in Springfield, is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.

“We have players who have a chip on their shoulder,” said Woodberry, who searches for prospects in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. “These kids feel they could play at the bigger schools. At bigger schools, kids want to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft as soon as possible. They want to get out.

“Here we’ve got four- and five-year players who get after it on defense. Practices are intense and physical. We build toughness and an edge. Whether you are at home or on the road, we want to wear you (opponents) down.”

After learning plenty from coaches Williams, Hinson and Martin — not to mention several of his mentors in the pros — Woodberry would love the opportunity to run his own program.

“I have to pay my dues. I can’t be a head coach until we win here. They won’t hire a guy who went 11-20 last year,” Woodberry said, adding that he’d love someday to “make all the decisions.”

Hinson believes Woodberry “will be a great coach. It’s one of the reasons I hired him, not from his background only at Kansas, but from when he played at Wichita South for Steve Eck. I knew he was a great player, but I’ll say this, he’s even a much better person and father. Guys like that will always have the opportunity to be successful.”

The personable, easy-going Woodberry still stays in contact with many of his former KU coaches and teammates.

“Adonis Jordan lives in Las Vegas. He wants to get in coaching,” Woodberry said of the former KU point guard who also had a long career overseas. “He’s had some hip problems. He didn’t need hip replacement because he’s still young, but he had resurfacing of his hip. They reshaped the bone.

“Richard Scott is a highway patrolman in Little Rock (Ark.),” Woodberry added. “Alonzo is in coaching (assistant at Bethel College) and Rex (Walters) coaches at San Francisco. And I talk to Greg Gurley a lot.”

Gurley, a former KU guard who is a color analyst for Sunflower Broadband Channel Six, says Woodberry has everything it takes to be a top head coach.

“He’s such a hard worker. He and Rex used to absolutely work harder than anybody I’d ever seen,” Gurley said. “Steve’s doing it the right way. He’s an assistant and building up. Hopefully he gets that shot.

“We look at head coaching as being so glamorous. Bill Self is making $3 million a year. The truth is, coach Self put his time in,” Gurley added. “Steve is going to have to put his time in and get a break. Hopefully that happens, because Steve is one of the good ones. He’s a great guy.”

Just as he was a great player.

“If Steve was playing in this day and age, people would be talking about him maybe leaving early (for NBA),” Gurley said. “Steve is one of the best four-year players at Kansas that nobody talks about, in my opinion.”

Woodberry — he and wife Bianca have two children Shaylen and Sherron; he also has two children, Steven and Kaylen — said he’ll remember his KU days forever.

“I’ll always be a Jayhawk,” said Woodberry. “I follow them all the time. KU is the best place to play college basketball. That environment is the best. It’s the best home-court advantage in the country.”