Sa­muel­son thrives in Conn.; Adams aims to lead team to March

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By David Borges

STORRS — Barry Con­nors was sit­ting at Flana­gan’s Restau­rant down in Florida with his son, Quinn, watch­ing UConn play Tem­ple on the big- screen TV a cou­ple of years back.

Tem­ple led 63- 62 with 8.4 sec­onds left, when Rod­ney Purvis in­bounded the ball to Jalen Adams near mid­court. Quinn Con­nors, 11 at the time, had prac­ti­cally grown up with Adams, along with Kaleb Joseph, An­drew Chrabascz and other mem­bers of the two- time New Eng­land- cham­pion Cush­ing Academy bas­ket­ball team coached by his dad. Quinn knew what was go­ing to hap­pen next. He had seen it all too many times be­fore.

“Look dad,” Quinn said to his fa­ther, “Jalen’s gonna win the game for them.”

Sure enough, Adams took the in­bounds pass, drove the lane and hit a left- handed layup with 2.8 sec­onds left that clinched the Huskies’

64- 63 vic­tory.

About a year ear­lier, Ja­son Smith, who coached Adams for one post- grad sea­son at Brew­ster Academy, was watch­ing UConn’s AAC tour­na­ment battle with Cincin­nati. Adams had led Brew­ster to both New Eng­land and na­tional prep cham­pi­onships in 2015, so Smith knew he had it in him to make big shots. Even 75- foot shots.

Cincin­nati’s Kevin John­son hit a 3- pointer to give the Bearcats a three- point lead with 0.8 sec­onds left in the third over­time, and Adams and Daniel Hamil­ton were ar­gu­ing about who should in­bound the ball.

“I was like, ‘ Don’t let Jalen take the ball in­bounds! He’s gonna make some­thing hap­pen,’ ” Smith re­called. “He wants the ball in the clutch mo­ment.”

Sure enough, Hamil­ton in­bounded to Adams and … well, you know the rest — a 75- footer to send the game to a fourth OT, where UConn even­tu­ally won.

Those are prob­a­bly the two most mem­o­rable shots of Jalen Adams’ first three years at UConn. He was in­con­sis­tent and largely over­shad­owed by Hamil­ton, Purvis and oth­ers as a fresh­man and, quite frankly, the Huskies just haven’t had many big games the past two sea­sons.

Now Adams is a se­nior, with one last chance to truly make his mark at UConn. He’s been a first­team all- con­fer­ence pick the past two sea­sons and is a pre­sea­son pick again this year. He’s on the verge of crack­ing UConn’s all- time top- 10 scor­ing list, and if he plays well enough, could be in the run­ning for league player of the year and even All- Amer­i­can. He’s also strug­gling to be a leader on a team that des­per­ately needs it. Adams was held out of a re­cent closed- door scrim­mage against Har­vard due to a vi­o­la­tion of team rules, and didn’t start in UConn’s ex­hi­bi­tion game win over South­ern Con­necti­cut State on Fri­day night. First- year UConn coach Dan Hur­ley had said Adams would be a game- time de­ci­sion for that one, and wound up pop­ping off the bench about 71⁄ min­utes

2 into the con­test, scor­ing 16 points. Hur­ley had had a meet­ing ear­lier in the week with his star guard to lay out what he ex­pects from him “I wouldn’t be do­ing my job, when you’ve got his abil­ity, if I didn’t hold him to the ab­so­lute high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard ev­ery sin­gle day,” the coach said after Fri­day night’s game. “My re­spon­si­bil­ity as a coach is to do that with him, or else I’m cheat­ing him ev­ery day with my job. This is a tal­ented guy, a like­able guy, a guy that could be one of the best guards in the coun­try. He’s got NBA ta­lent. From here on for­ward, we’re ac­cept­ing noth­ing less than him per­form­ing day- in and day- out like great play­ers do.” Adams agreed.

“I’ve just got to do the right thing and fall in love with the process,” he said. “There are no short­cuts to suc­cess, so I’ve got to buy in 100 per­cent to the coach­ing staff’s game plan, and I’m sure things will work out for me.” Thus far, Adams’s legacy at UConn is a 75- foot shot. He wants more. He wants to get back to the NCAA tour­na­ment. “I re­ally just want our team to ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to get to the post­sea­son and to con­tinue to play in March,” he said re­cently. “That’s when the ex­cite­ment’s hap­pen­ing and every­one’s watch­ing. That’s re­ally when the dreams do come true. I re­ally want our team to get that ex­pe­ri­ence. We re­ally work so hard dur­ing the sum­mer, don’t take many days off. It would be re­ally great for our team to get that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

It’s hardly out of the ques­tion. Hur­ley has made a habit of turn­ing around col­lege pro­grams. He brings a no- non­sense at­ti­tude that should be good for a team that had de­vel­oped bad habits the past cou­ple of years — and es­pe­cially good for Adams.

“Coach Hur­ley is ex­actly what Jalen needs his se­nior year,” said Smith. “As a prep player, in AAU, at Cush­ing and Brew­ster, Jalen’s so tal­ented, I think at times it was too easy for him. I think what you’re gonna see this year as a se­nior with Danny, he’s gonna be that tough S. O. B. that Jalen needs. He’ll un­der­stand, ‘ This is my last go- round, I’m gonna take this team to the tour­na­ment.’

“I think you’ll see him have a mon­ster sea­son.”

STRUG­GLING TO BE­COME A LEADER

For Hur­ley to turn around a pro­gram that’s lost 35 games the past two sea­sons and has fallen off the na­tional radar, he needs help from his best player. He wants — needs — Adams to be a leader, on and off the floor. Needs him to chal­lenge his team­mates at times, be more of a … jerk ( though Hur­ley uses a more color­ful term).

“He’s got to un­der­stand he’s not run­ning for UConn class pres­i­dent,” Hur­ley said.

For much of Hur­ley’s first seven months on the job, Adams has de­liv­ered. Then came some sort of in­frac­tion — it’s not clear what Adams did or didn’t do — to war­rant his re­cent pun­ish­ment.

“I have re­ally high stan­dards,” Hur­ley said. “You can’t give me three great weeks, then a bad day or two. You’ve got to show up ev­ery day. And it’s even more im­por­tant when you’re the best player on the team. The best player and the coach set the tone for the pro­gram. He’s got to be bought- in for ev­ery as­pect of the pro­gram, not just from 12: 45 to 3: 15 p. m. on the prac­tice floor.”

It’s not the first time Adams has slipped up at UConn. As a fresh­man, in a game at — iron­i­cally — Tem­ple, Adams got in a ver­bal al­ter­ca­tion with coach Kevin Ol­lie at half­time and spent most of the lat­ter half teth­ered to the bench. He fi­nally reen­tered the game with a few min­utes left, but the Owls had al­ready ral­lied back from a 12- point deficit to win by five.

On the eve of the 2017- 18 sea­son, Adams was is­sued a sum­mons after get­ting

into a mi­nor scooter ac­ci­dent on cam­pus and was sus­pended for the Huskies’ sea­son- opener against Col­gate.

Nei­ther were cap­i­tal crimes, but both re­vealed a level of immaturity. Be­ing a leader is some­what new ter­ri­tory for Adams. At Cush­ing, it was Joseph, who played at Syracuse and is now at Creighton, Chrabascz, who starred at But­ler, and Idris Taqqee, a three- time cap­tain at St. Bonaventure, that pro­vided the lead­er­ship.

“Jalen didn’t re­ally need to do that,” Con­nors re­called. “We weren’t re­ally ask­ing him to be a leader, and he didn’t have to be.”

One trait Adams did own at the prep level, how­ever, was win­ning: three New Eng­land cham­pi­onships and a na­tional ti­tle. He had the clutch gene, too.

“I can’t tell you how many game- win­ning shots he hit,” Con­nors said.

There was a buzzer­beater against Bridg­ton that was “al­most sur­real,” ac­cord­ing to the coach. Bridg­ton had taken a late lead, but Cush­ing had the ball last, and every­body knew Adams get the ball and knock down the gamewin­ner.

“It was like, ‘ Ho- hum,’ we knew it was gonna hap­pen,” Con­nors re­called.

In the New Eng­land cham­pi­onship game against St. An­drew’s in his first year at Cush­ing, Adams gave a pre­view of com­ing at­trac­tions. Down two with three sec­onds left, Adams took an in­bounds pass about 75 feet from the bas­ket, took three drib­bles and launched a 40- footer that hit noth­ing but net.

“If the kid was play­ing tid­dledy­winks and he was down one wink, he’d throw it off the glass and it would go in,” Con­nors joked. “That’s just the way he is. He’s not afraid of any­thing. He was bet­ter in our big games.”

There’s never been any doubt about Adams’s ath­letic abil­ity, ei­ther. His se­cond year at Cush­ing, Adams played foot­ball on a whim and was one of the team’s top re­ceivers and de­fen­sive backs. At Brew­ster, he teamed in the back­court with Dono­van Mitchell, now an NBA star with the Utah Jazz, and never took a back­seat. The two are still close friends, which Smith be­lieves will be ben­e­fi­cial to Adams this sea­son.

“He’s prob­a­bly see­ing the suc­cess Dono­van is hav­ing and say­ing, ‘ I used to do things Dono­van couldn’t do,’” Smith noted. “I think com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Dono­van is gonna help Jalen, giv­ing him some ad­vice. A lot of that is Jalen un­der­stand­ing, ‘ This is my se­nior year, I’m gonna be one of the best guards to come through a his­toric pro­gram.’”

This sea­son, Adams is clearly the best player on his team. Now, he’s got to em­brace that role and all the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with it.

“It’s great to be the best player, be­cause you get all the at­ten­tion,” Hur­ley noted. “But you get held to a higher stan­dard, be­cause every­one’s watch­ing you. If I al­low the best player on the team to cut cor­ners and do the things he wants to do, we’re gonna have a soft, weak, los­ing team.”

And that’s not the kind of legacy Jalen Adams wants to leave at UConn.

Associated Press file photo

The mis­sion for UConn’s Jalen Adams in his se­nior year is to help the Huskies get back to the NCAA tour­na­ment.

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