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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Adams has mentor in ex-Cat Jefferson

    Adams has mentor in ex-Cat Jefferson

    PHOENIX – Hassan Adams stole the ball from an opposing big man, ran the break and finished with a layup, drawing a foul in the process.

    For good measure, he added three pumps of the fist, just as he had countless times for the Arizona men’s basketball team the past four years.

    But this time it was different; Adams was playing in the New Jersey Nets’ 99-93 loss to the Phoenix Suns Friday night.

    This was the night he became the next player from UA head coach Lute Olson’s basketball factory to make a mark in the NBA – albeit a small one in the Nets’ near comeback – scoring his first eight career points on 4-of-4 shooting and grabbing four rebounds.

    “”I tried to play hard,”” he said in the locker room after the game. “”That’s all I know, just go hard. We changed the momentum that they had and just tried to change it up.””

    He got his chance when Nets head coach Lawrence Frank decided to go to his bench with New Jersey trailing 77-55. Adams replaced former Wildcat Richard Jefferson in the Nets lineup, just as he did in the UA lineup four years ago, with a year in between Jefferson’s final year as a junior and Adams’ freshman campaign.

    So it goes with Arizona basketball, a program that routinely pumps a player or two into the NBA every year, this time putting the rookie Adams onto a team with the sixth-year veteran and former Olympian Jefferson, who Adams said is “”like a big brother”” and has become a mentor to him.

    “”Hassan’s been great in terms of he’s got big ears and he listens and learns, but Richard’s been very, very proactive and really taken him under his wing and really shown him great guidance,”” Frank said.

    But for Adams, the court time he saw in Phoenix (14 minutes) was rare, as he’d played just 11 minutes in New Jersey’s first 11 games combined. That includes four games he didn’t play at all by coach’s decision, which Olson said is the biggest thing Adams has needed to adjust to.

    That’s not easy for a player who became the only one in Pacific 10 Conference history to score 1,800 points, grab 700 rebounds and record 200 steals in a career last season and ranked in the top 10 in seven UA career categories, including steals (second, 238), points (seventh, 1,818) and blocks (eighth, 85).

    Jefferson said Adams is in a unique situation, playing on a Nets squad that has himself and perennial All-Star Vince Carter starting at the wings and that has won four Atlantic Division titles in five years.

    “”Every team is kind of built a different way, and so not everyone’s going to play,”” Frank said before giving Adams his first extended action as a pro. “”It doesn’t mean they’re not a good player, but I think he’ll definitely get his opportunity. That’s how it works.””

    Adams said he only worries about things he can control and tries to bring the energy Arizona fans are accustomed to when he gets on the floor.

    When the Nets picked Adams 54th overall in June’s NBA Draft, he became the 27th player chosen from Arizona since the draft went to two rounds in 1989, tied for most in college basketball with Duke. With 10 players currently playing for nine different teams, nearly one-third of the league’s squads, Jefferson is used to facing off against a former Wildcat night in and night out.

    “”Even though we don’t play with each other – I never played with Hassan, I never played with (Philadelphia 76ers forward) Andre (Iguodala) – you’ve known each other for so long that you always have a little more fun playing against the guys,”” Jefferson said. “”You always have something to relate to when you talk to each other. The respect is still there.””

    Said Olson, “”We’re very proud of the guys that come out of this program.””

    That success starts with the UA head coach, whose strong track record has helped him recruit even more NBA talent and eventually keep churning out players to the league.

    “”I think you start to understand what coach Olson does is a real simple thing, but …you learn and benefit from things that he does,”” Jefferson said. “”He makes everything very simple. Look at here, for example. It’s all the just the same principles: You work hard, you do what you have to do, and good things will happen.””

    Frank, who also drafted guard Marcus Williams and forward Josh Boone in the first round from Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut juggernaut in the 2006 draft, said “”without a doubt”” there’s a difference in players coming from the nation’s top college programs.

    “”Coach Olson is one of the finest coaches to coach, and his players are representative of that,”” Frank said. “”And their sense and understanding in terms of what it takes to win and the commitment it takes – it affects character, people that he has – I think without a doubt that’s what you look for. You look for guys that come from winning programs that have been coached by the best.””

    It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Adams under Olson.

    His four-year class earned a record of 98-34 (.742), which would be positive for many programs, but it ended a streak of every four-year Arizona class winning 100 career games since the fall of 1985, a span of 20 senior classes.

    Along with guard Chris Rodgers and forward Isaiah Fox, he also joined 2005’s senior class of center Channing Frye and guard Salim Stoudamire as the only since 1990 not to reach the Final Four.

    Last season Adams was haunted by a litany of off-court incidents: a DUI charge in March that he was eventually acquitted of, a disorderly conduct citation in December, coming late to a pregame meal and getting benched for a game in December, and a general feeling of a lack of senior leadership on the squad.

    Still, Adams, who called himself one of Arizona’s biggest fans on the East Coast, said he has no regrets about how his UA career went.

    “”If I had another year, I would stay,”” he said. “”It was great, no regrets, man. Coach Olson to all my teammates that I had through my career have just been helping, teach(ing) me every year.””

    Without that fifth year of eligibility, in his first real NBA action, Adams scored around the basket, played tough defense – even when matched up against a taller opponent – and hustled his way to three offensive rebounds, a steal and a block.

    Now it’s time for the 6-foot-4 swingman with NBA athleticism, defense and hustle but questionable shooting and ball-handling in college to try to become the next Wildcat to make a living in the NBA.

    If you ask Jefferson, another athletic swingman who improved his jump shot when he got to the league, Adams is going to stick.

    “”He’s definitely an NBA player,”” Jefferson said. “”He’s definitely an NBA talent.””

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