A great op­por­tu­nity is there for Adams to seize

UConn’s best player can lead team back to win­ning ways

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Sports - MIKE AN­THONY man­thony@courant.com

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.”

BRAD HORRIGAN/HART­FORD COURANT

UConn coach Dan Hur­ley, left, says he needs to hold se­nior guardJalen Adams, right, “to the ab­so­lute high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard ev­ery sin­gle day.”

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