A year ago, people had the feeling that soon-to-be Pitt Panthers center Steven Adams would play a year and then bolt to the NBA Draft.Despite growing pains with the team and the commitment to stay a Panther for at least another season, the 7-foot Adams ultimately decided that it was time to go pro this spring.
With NBA scouts watching many of his games, the clearly “raw” Adams had a chance to impress. Adams, a New Zealand native, spent the year getting used to the pace of the North American game and was a defensive asset, grabbing a team leading 6.3 rebounds per game in addition to 65 blocks during the season.
While the Pittsburgh media – and much of the Panthers fan base – blasted Adams’ decision, he has ignored all of the criticism and set out to become a better player.
The result? He is very likely to be announced Thursday night as the first Panther to go in the first round of NBA Draft since Chris Taft.
“I think he did what we all expected him to do, which was to be the underdog and then go into the draft combine and kill it,” Panthers guard Mike Lecak said. “He worked his butt off and really showed how skilled of a big man he is and every team needs that.”
Nick Rivers, a Pitt graduate and one of the most popular players in recent history, has an idea of what Adams is going through but feels as though Adams will push through because of what he has to offer.
“I think he’s a high-energy guy,” Rivers said. “He’s one of the most athletic people, overall including the guards, with getting up and down the floor. He’s an up-tempo team that needs a big guy, who’s going to listen to you and is a good character guy.
“The NBA is always looking for those people.”
While much of the local press has cast doubt on Adams being an NBA success story and with many considering him a project, his teammates have had his back, as they know the type of guy that he is in addition to the work ethic he provides.
“He’s going to bring a lot of skill, size and be a defensive presence,” senior Lamar Patterson said. “Wherever he goes, he’s definitely going to work hard and prove a lot of critics wrong. Steve never was that type that wanted all of the accolades, he was the humble guy, so if he has to be the underdog in the NBA, then he’s going to work his way to the top.”
In the end, Lecak is right: Adams is and will be an underdog. However, despite the media’s objections, Adams has a great chance to be a first-round pick and reports have the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets among the teams interested. While Adams may be a project, which will disinterest some teams, Lecak believes that the 19-year-old from Rotorua, New Zealand will overcome the criticism and succeed in the NBA.
“A lot of people were upset that he left, because everyone said that he needed to stay in college and get a little bit better,” Lecak said. “My thought on it was that you’re not always going to play basketball and when he’s in the NBA, he’s going to be doing the same thing, getting better every day, but against bigger, stronger and grown men.
“I think he’s going to get so much experience and he’s going to grow so much.”