By JEREMY WOO
Special to ZAGSBLOG
CHICAGO — In what was a stressful week for many, nobody at the NBA Draft Combine had more fun than Steven Adams.
Seven feet tall in shoes and weighing over 250 pounds, the New Zealand native cuts an imposing figure — but Adams was all smiles Friday as he discussed his draft preparations. The Pitt product enjoyed himself all week, particularly going through interviews with potential employers.
“It’s been awesome,” Adams said. “[Teams] just want to get to know me and my background. They all have their own interview styles. Dallas had a sports psychologist who tries to mentally torment you — I found that fun, it was really different.”
Adams also spoke with teams including Minnesota, Orlando and Phoenix, taking in his surroundings and appreciating each step of the process. The week marked his first real taste of the NBA spotlight.
“Meeting new people, it’s cool,” said Adams. “It’s almost been an asking them for their autograph type of thing. I saw the Dallas head coach [Rick Carlisle] and was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s up bro? I’ve seen you on TV!’”
After his positive showings at the combine and in workouts, some now see Adams as a Top 10 selection, or at least Top 20. Still just 19, his physical gifts—his size as well as quickness and ability to run the floor — scream with promise. He also displayed an improved jump shot on Friday.
“Great in workouts,” one Western Conference GM told SNY.tv. “More skilled facing the hoop than he showed at Pitt. Probably going 15-23″ in the Draft.”
DraftExpress.com has Adams going No. 16 overall, and Chad Ford of ESPN has him at No. 19.
Scarily, Adams has only played competitive basketball for six years.
Adams’ father passed away in 2006, and basketball helped him fill the void. Adams, with help from his older brother Warren moved to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. There he began to work with Kenny McFadden, a former Washington State player and according to Adams, New Zealand’s “NBA guru.” McFadden was also a pro teammate of Pitt coach Jamie Dixon’s in New Zealand, hence the commitment to Pitt.
“When I was 13, I started really loving the game,” Adams explained. “Kenny taught me a ton of stuff and I liked the progress I had made. I got addicted to it, and I wanted to keep carrying it on.”
In 2011, Adams joined the Wellington Saints in New Zealand’s professional league. After winning Rookie of the Year and helping the Saints to a domestic championship, he packed his bags for the United States, earning a reputation as a coveted international prospect and NBA hopeful.
Upon his arrival, Adams spent a year at Notre Dame (MA) Prep before heading to Pittsburgh.
In just 23.4 minutes per game as a freshman, Adams averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and two blocks — not a bad showing from a still-raw prospect learning the American game.
“The competition was way higher than in New Zealand,” Adams said. “I wasn’t used to playing against really tall people who were strong as well. Back home I could usually go over them, now I try to use my body to get a hook shot off and to rebound.”
Though still very much a project-type player, Adams’ considerable upside is sure to make him a valuable part of his new team’s plans. He’ll likely sit with fellow prospects in the draft’s green room next month, waiting to hear David Stern call his name and take the stage on national television. And as usual, no matter whose hat he puts on, it’ll be no big deal.
“I’ll just be relaxing,” said Adams with a laugh. “I heard they’ve got real good food [at the draft]. I’ll be good.”
Photo: USA Today