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Cultural leap: New Zealand-native Adams adjusts to American basketball

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Steven Adams was thrown into a life he knew nothing about. Coming from New Zealand to the United States, Adams had to learn the American style of basketball. Off of the court, life was often more difficult.Even eating American food was a struggle.“The food, he always complained about the food,” high school teammate Lawrence Johnson, now a freshman guard at Niagara University, said. “He’s from a farm, and he’s used to full-course meals and dairy products. All the processed stuff, he didn’t understand it.”Adams needed to adjust quickly, though. After playing the majority of his high school career in New Zealand, he spent a semester at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., before making the jump to Pittsburgh for collegiate play.A 7-foot, 240-pound freshman center, Adams has played an important role for the Panthers (17-4, 5-4 Big East) this season, averaging 6.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 22.8 minutes. With Syracuse short-handed in the low post, Pittsburgh will have an advantage with Adams at center when the Panthers play the Orange on Saturday at noon at the Peterson Events Center.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAdams arrived at Notre Dame with a glowing resume, despite lacking experience playing basketball in the United States. With his imposing figure and accomplishments, such as leading the 2011 Adidas Nations tournament in scoring and rebounding with 22 points and 16.8 rebounds per game, Adams was highly sought after by high-level prep school programs across the country, his high school coach Ryan Hurd said.“Everyone was attracted to him,” Hurd said. “It was almost like his legend was bigger than he was.”Aided by a pre-existing relationship with Kenny McFadden, Adams’ mentor in New Zealand and a former player at Washington State, Adams enrolled at Notre Damefor the second half of the 2011-12 season.Although Adams’ natural skill and talent was immediately apparent, the increase in competition took a while to adjust to. While he could dominate in New Zealand without maximum effort on every play, playing at Notre Dame forced him to compete against players his size every game, Hurd said.Practices helped, but in-game experience was the pivotal factor in Adams’ ascent to the next level, Hurd said.“They’re so big, people sometimes forget they’re kids,” Hurd said, referring to the contingent of forwards and centers that comes from overseas. “With a lot of guys from overseas, the pace and speed of the game takes time to adjust to. Nothing helps as much as playing.”Adams proved to be a quick study, notching 23 points and 10 rebounds in a Jan. 14, 2012 contest against a Tilton (N.H.) School team that included highly touted Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, and being named Sports Illustrated High School Player of the Week on Feb. 23 that year.For Johnson, Adams’ high school teammate, the opportunity to play with Adams was a privilege. After losing its first two games of the season before Adams arrived, Notre Dame rattled off a second-semester winning streak that led to the National Prep School semifinals, where Notre Dame fell 78-74 to Brewster Academy.Johnson points to Adams’ presence as an imposing defensive anchor, his dominant rebounding ability and unselfishness as key factors in Notre Dame’s postseason push.“We had a good team,” Johnson said, referring to the fall semester before Adams arrived. “But with Steven, we were completely different. We went from good to great. He pressured everyone – he blocked shots and rebounded. He always wanted to help.”Despite Adams’ ability to dominate games, Johnson saw untapped potential in his teammate, just as their coach did.Although his initial instinct may have been to stay out of the way and let other players shine, Adams was encouraged by his teammates to showcase his talents and take on a larger role, Johnson said.“Probably his aggression,” Johnson said of Adams’ most pronounced area of improvement from his time at Notre Dame. “In the beginning, he would look to pass all the time, and we’re like, ‘Steve, you’re good, you can score.’ He needed to work on his post moves and get more comfortable with the speed of the game. By the end of the year, he was killing it.”Aside from his progression on the court, Adams’ adjustment to other areas of American basketball life was a process. Adams had never really interacted with the media before, and wasn’t used to reporters waiting outside the locker room after games and wanting to speak with him, Hurd, his high school coach, said.Adams even found humor in the fact that basketball games draw crowds, Hurd said.“The crowds are still something he gets used to,” Hurd said. “He laughs at how much people care here. In New Zealand, when he played and practiced in gyms, people didn’t care what he was up to.”For Hurd, Big East play should suit Adams more than the early-season string of nonconference action against lower-level opposition. Big East play brings more competition against players with size comparable to Adams, and Hurd said he thinks Adams is best suited to play against bigger guys.“Early in the season, guys were bouncing off him,” Hurd said. “Now in the Big East, against guys his size, he can play more physical. He can bump on guys.”Against DePaul on Saturday, Adams tied a season-high by grabbing 14 rebounds in 24 minutes in a 93-55 win that pushed Pittsburgh’s winning streak to four games.Asked about Adams’ progression after the DePaul game, Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon pointed out the sizable learning curve Adams has faced. Adams has adapted at a commendable pace, Dixon said.“Probably no one is having more of an adjustment going from where he came from to playing in the Big East,” Dixon said. “There’s no other way to look at it. There’s no guy making as big a transition as him.”Johnson has such high regard for Adams’ skills that he makes a point to tune in any time the Panthers are on television, saying it is hard to pass on watching a player of Adams’ caliber. The two stay in contact on Facebook, and Johnson thinks Adams is the best player he’s ever played with.As his career at Pitt progresses and his game continues to develop, Adams may start to receive widespread national attention, which would be just one of many adjustments he has faced since coming to the United States – even if he never fully understands it.“He’s just a laid-back guy,” Hurd said. “The way we live our lives, always on the go and multi-tasking?“That’s not him.” Comments Published on January 30, 2013 at 2:30 am Contact Kevin: kmprisei@syr.edulast_img

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