A great opportunity is there for Adams to seize
UConn’s best player can lead team back to winning ways
STORRS — The slate is again clean for Jalen Adams, who again said all the right things and is again embracing the advanced responsibilities and standards that come with being UConn’s best basketball player. Again, a little Adams misstep was followed with a big declaration of understanding.
“I definitely feel like I do need to do the right thing just to lead and set an example because that can only carry on to the court and get us wins,” Adams said Friday after UConn defeated Southern Connecticut in an exhibition at Gampel Pavilion. “I’ve just got to buy in on the court, off the court, wherever it is, because whether I like it or not, there are going to be eyes on me from the upperclassmen and underclassmen. So I’ve just got to set the right example at all times.”
Adams, a senior and the Huskies’ leading scorer each of the past two lost seasons, must become and remain the adult this team and its new coach so desperately need.
His actions over the next several months will either support or contradict his words.
All that’s at stake is what can become of UConn’s season and Adams’ professional future. So everything is at stake. “I wouldn’t be doing my job
with a guy of his ability if I didn't hold him to the absolute highest possible standard every single day,” coach Dan Hurley said. “It's my responsibility as a coach to do that with him or else I'm cheating him every day of my job. This is a talented guy, a likable guy, a guy that could be literally one of the best guards in the country, has got NBA talent. From here on forward we're accepting nothing less than him performing day in and day out like great players do, like elite players do.”
Adams was held out of last week's scrimmage against Harvard, and he came off the bench Friday against Southern, watching the first six-plus minutes from a seat behind a pacing Hurley and in between assistants Kimani Young and Kenya Hunter.
Soon after this mini-suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules was over, Adams was off and running on a fast break, converting a basket while fouled and stepping toward the student section, slapping hands with a fan. This three-point play came during a stretch in which UConn started to turn Hurley's debut on the Gampel sideline into a comfortable, functional and productive two-hour block of work.
Did the punishment fit the crime? We don't know because we don't know the crime. What we do know is that one of Hurley's most important tasks over his first eight months has been, and continues to be, making sure Adams aligns his approach with his boundless potential.
The Huskies are going to have the best player on the court many nights this season. NBA executives will watch and listen closely to how Adams fits into Hurley's program and how he carries himself in and out of games. Hurley's approach has been to send message after message about a pretty good effort not being nearly good enough, speaking glowingly about Adams' skill and boldly about a certain way to operate.
UConn can't expect to be the team it wants to be if its best player isn't the player and teammate he can be. It's time for the Huskies, coming off consecutive losing seasons, to get back to the business they are used to conducting, and Adams can drive that effort.
There is an incredible opportunity ahead. Adams can be the centerpiece for the program's first step back to true relevance. He can be a man cherished for his accomplishments and contributions. Or he can be the kid remembered as a prolific scorer during a depressing era.
“Culture is something you have to fight for every day,” Hurley said before Friday's game. “Our culture is not where it needs to be, overall. When you win 30 games in two years, it's not just a talent issue, it's not just one thing. There was a national championship in 2014. It wasn't just the talent. It's the culture, the commitment level, the work ethic, doing the next hard thing or just handling your business. You get held to an even greater standard when you're the best player because you set the pace of the pack. You've got to do everything right. … If I allow the best player on the team to cut corners and just do the things he wants to do, we're going to have a really soft, weak, losing team.”
Adams was disciplined a few times by previous coach Kevin Ollie, who benched Adams, then a freshmen, for most of the second half of a game at Temple after a heated exchange. He was suspended for last season's opener after being issued a misdemeanor summons for racing and crashing a scooter and then fleeing the scene. He has said several times over the years that he cheated or took shortcuts or took the easy way out in how he works and prepares, and several times that he has learned a valuable lesson.
Still, he is well placed to be remembered fondly. He's a terrific player, strong, agile, creative. He hit the iconic 75foot buzzer-beater in the third overtime of a 2016 AAC Tournament game against Cincinnati that UConn went on to win in the fourth. He has 1,267 career points, averaging 14.4 as a sophomore and 18.1 as a junior. Heck, an amazing senior season (individually and for the team) could land him in the Huskies Of Honor recognition program that Scott Burrell joined Friday.
It will take four-plus months of an adultlike, all-business approach. The slate is clean, the opportunity is there and Adams has said he gets it again, and hopefully for the last time.
“I've just got to do the right thing and just fall in love with the process,” Adams said. “There are no shortcuts to success, so I've just got to buy in 100 percent to the coaching staff 's game plan and I'm sure things will work out for me.”
UConn coach Dan Hurley, left, says he needs to hold senior guardJalen Adams, right, “to the absolute highest possible standard every single day.”