New Zealand ex­cur­sion

In a busy trip to New Zealand, Thun­der cen­ter Steven Adams and Billy Dono­van took time away to fish.

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

The bas­ket­ball talk would have to wait.

Some­where off the coast of Welling­ton, New Zealand on Satur­day – it still was Fri­day back in Ok­la­homa City – Thun­der cen­ter Steven Adams and his coach, Billy Dono­van, had other pri­or­i­ties.

As part of a party on a fish­ing boat, they watched as lines were cast and divers dove, pro­duc­ing lob­ster and blue cod and sea urchin that the pas­sen­gers ate fresh out of the wa­ter.

“I got skunked” as a fish­er­man, Dono­van said in a Satur­day phone in­ter­view with The Ok­la­homan from Welling­ton. “I sat there and watched. But I ate a lot of what was on the boat, I’ll tell you that.”

It was rare spare time in a busy trip for Dono­van, who’s part of a Thun­der group that trav­eled this week to Adams’ na­tive New Zealand, where the cen­ter has been host­ing bas­ket­ball camps.

For Dono­van, there have been coach­ing clin­ics and speak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in Christchurch and Auck­land and Welling­ton. It’s a busi­ness trip, sup­port­ing Adams and rep­re­sent­ing the Thun­der abroad.

But it’s also about build­ing a closer bond with Adams, the kind of in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ship that’s a core tenet of Dono­van’s coach­ing phi­los­o­phy. He’s in­ter­acted with Adams’ fam­ily, seen some of Adams’ fa­vorite places in his home­land.

In their quiet mo­ments, bas­ket­ball has taken a back­seat.

“The con­ver­sa­tion could drift that way if. It could, if (Adams) wants it to,” Dono­van said. “But my in­ten­tion – as much as I love bas­ket­ball and as much as I’d love to be on a boat talk­ing about it – is not to have Steven say, ‘Oh my God. We’re talk­ing about pick-and-roll cov­er­age right now?’”

There’s plenty of time for hoops else­where.

Adams the icon

The re­turn to New Zealand is an an­nual af­fair for Adams, and though this is Dono­van’s first visit, the Thun­der long has sup­ported its cen­ter’s ef­forts in his na­tive coun­try.

Gen­eral man­ager Sam Presti didn’t make the trip this year, but has been mul­ti­ple times. Guard An­dre Rober­son is back for a second straight year, and for­ward Nick Col­li­son joined last sum­mer. As­sis­tant coach Mark Bryant and di­rec­tor of bas­ket­ball com­mu­ni­ca­tions Matt Tum­ble­son are re­peat vis­i­tors this week.

It’s part of the team’s phi­los­o­phy of sup­port­ing play­ers in Ok­la­homa City and beyond. When Rus­sell West­brook opened read­ing rooms in Los An­ge­les, Thun­der staff was there. When for­ward Josh Huestis got mar­ried last week, Dono­van and Presti were among the guests.

It just hap­pens that Adams’ sup­port comes across the Pa­cific Ocean, at a se­ries of pop­u­lar camps in New Zealand. Sunday morn­ing in Welling­ton –Satur­day evening in OKC – there were 600 kids in attendance, Tum­ble­son said. Adams ex­pected 500 to 600 more a day later in Auck­land.

In Christchurch, still re­cov­er­ing from an earth­quake that rav­aged the city in 2011, there were 400 campers in a town where Tum­ble­son said “you couldn’t have a five-minute con­ver­sa­tion without some­body say­ing how ap­pre­cia­tive they are of Ste­vie.”

Adams is “an icon” in New Ze­land, Dono­van said.

And un­der­stand­ing that is im­por­tant to the Thun­der coach.

Face to face

There are times when Adams could be more selfish, mo­ments when a more ag­gres­sive on-court ap­proach might bet­ter serve the Thun­der.

But in New Zealand, Dono­van said, he’s come to a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Adams’ ea­ger­ness to please, of the im­por­tance to Adams that “ev­ery­body feels good about what they’re do­ing.”

“When you come to New Zealand, you un­der­stand that a lot more, be­cause that’s how the peo­ple are,” Dono­van said. “The peo­ple are very un­selfish. They’re ex­tremely hum­ble, they’re ap­pre­cia­tive, they’re thank­ful, they’re help­ful.”

Learn­ing that, Dono­van said, deep­ens the coach­player re­la­tion­ship with Adams.

So does get­ting to know Adams’ fam­ily and watch­ing the way they in­ter­act, the way they “truly care about one another” and how Adams’ broth­ers give him grief de­spite his larg­erthan-life sta­tus in New Zealand.

Though the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of the visit is to sup­port Adams’ camps and to con­duct coach­ing clin­ics, that time to in­ter­act is cru­cial to Dono­van, a firm be­liever in face-to-face con­nec­tions.

This sum­mer, he vis­ited Vic­tor Oladipo in Mi­ami be­fore the guard was traded to In­di­ana. When Paul Ge­orge came to the Thun­der in that deal, Dono­van flew to Cal­i­for­nia to spend a day with Ge­orge and his fam­ily. He’s vis­ited with Rus­sell West­brook and the rest of the Thun­der dur­ing vol­un­tary work­outs in Los An­ge­les.

Ul­ti­mately, Dono­van’s goal is to win games.

But he’s about con­nec­tions, too, a be­liever that the process of mak­ing a team its best can be­gin on a boat in New Zealand, scarf­ing down seafood and talk­ing about any­thing but bas­ket­ball.

“For me, there’s an in­cred­i­ble power with a group of peo­ple that are con­nected in what they’re do­ing,” Dono­van said. “I feel like my job, my role, my re­spon­si­bil­ity – whether it be dur­ing the sea­son or in the off­sea­son – is to try and cre­ate those con­nec­tions. Be­cause if we’re all uni­fied, con­nected and mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, it has a chance to be some­thing re­ally pow­er­ful.”

DAN MA­HONEY, OK­LA­HOMA CITY THUN­DER] [PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY

Thun­der cen­ter Steven Adams, left, and coach Billy Dono­van have had time to bond on a trip to New Zealand that in­cluded a deep-sea fish­ing on a boat Satur­day.

Brett Daw­son bdaw­son@ ok­la­homan.com

THUN­DER

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