Hoop dreams a reality for seven-footer Adams
History will be made in New Zealand sport this week when Steven Adams goes somewhere in the first round of the NBA draft. But the truth is he's just getting started.
As kiwi hoops phenom Steven Adams prepares for the biggest night of his young life to date - and a landmark moment in New Zealand sport - his mentor Kenny McFadden can't help casting his mind back to when it all began.
On Friday (NZ time) in New York, Adams will, by general consensus, be picked somewhere in the first round of the NBA draft, probably in the region of 10th to 20th pick. That will open up a world of riches and opportunity for the 19-year-old from Wellington as he embarks on a career in the world's greatest basketball league with the potential to earn tens of millions of dollars.
It's all a long, long way from the shy, hulking near 15-year-old who rolled up to McFadden's Wellington basketball academy a lost soul who had been plucked from the mean streets of Rotorua by his brother Warren and brought to the capital to establish some direction and purpose in his life.
"He didn't have any money, he didn't have a pair of shoes that fit him, the only thing he had was determination and a goal," recalls McFadden who's now in Los Angeles helping his young charge prepare for Friday's draft. "If anyone is prepared to take that and use it as motivation we're going to get a lot more [players] in there."
McFadden, an NBL legend who now develops young talent at his Wellington hoops academy, urges Kiwis to embrace this moment as Adams becomes the third New Zealander to play in the NBA (excluding Kiwi-born Aussie Aron Baynes), but first to be chosen in the first round of the draft.
The draft thing is significant. First-rounders (top 30) receive guaranteed contracts (two-year terms with team options for two more) with annual salaries ranging from up to $US5 million for the No 1 pick down to around $US800,000 for the No 30.
In other words, the higher you're picked, the more you'll get paid. With Adams tipped to go as early as 10 his money worries are about to disappear.
"It's history right here in the making," says McFadden. "We're not talking about a kid born in New Zealand and raised in the States, we're talking about a Kiwi kid born and raised right here who started the game late, but put in four and a-half years of commitment in the classroom as well as the basketball court and he's now one of the best in the world.
"That's not done every day, but there's room now for someone else to step up and do exactly the same."
It's hard to predict where Adams will go, as the draft tends to develop a life of its own, but the 2.13m New Zealander with the 7'5 wingspan and enormous hands has impressed coaches, GMs and scouts in three important areas.
His upside, or potential, is considered huge, given his late start and relative lack of exposure to top-level hoops. Everyone knows he's only scratching the surface of what he will become.
His physical attributes are also off the charts, with an NBA-ready body and size and athleticism that simply cannot be manufactured. He's also considered to have a good "motor" and strong work ethic.
Then there's his personality. Adams' easy-going manner and down-to-earth approach has impressed team executives throughout an exhausting pre-draft workout process that included visits to no less than a dozen suitors.
"I've been trying to show how versatile I am," said Adams at one his Phoenix Suns workout. "But I'm focusing on defence and rebounding and blocked shots. I feel like that's how I'll get my minutes in my first chapter [in the NBA], and if I can get that locked down I can then branch off into other parts of my game."
The truth is Adams will be a project for whoever picks him, whether it's Portland at 10, Philadelphia at 11, Oklahoma City at 12, Dallas at 13 or any of the other clubs around this mid-first round mark. They will have a lot of development to do.
But none of that matters. Adams will be on the fast track. He will play in the NBA and providing he improves as he's expected to he will eventually become an important part of someone's rotation. Too much money will have been invested not to give him his shot.
Where he ends up is the great unknown, and McFadden says it's important not to have any pre-conceived notions heading in. As great as it would be to land alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at OKC, you can't get your heart set on it.
"He doesn't read the papers, he's not focused on being in the lottery (top 14) or whatever, his focus is on getting on to a team, and when you get there be prepared to do whatever the coach asks you to do.
"Once you get there the game begins. You can't think the game is over when you get drafted, and you can't think about where you want to go to, because you don't want to get disappointed.
"All you've got to do is put the cap on of whichever team is given to you, and smile."
Still for both Adams and McFadden there will be immense satisfaction. When I first brought Adams' story to national attention back in 2010, the over-sized Scots College standout spoke then about his NBA goal: ""It's doable," he told me. "I know it's going to be hard, but what is easy in life?"
McFadden talks about feeling such a sense of achievement, but he also knows what's gone into this day. "We've had a lot of fine players come out of Wellington, but it's how long can you maintain the lifestyle of wanting to be great. He's stuck with it, and that's why it's pleasing because it's not easy being the first one."
That Adams joins a very special fraternity has McFadden bursting with pride.
"There are very few kids who even dream of going first round, let alone getting a chance to be a lottery pick. It's always good to be part of something that's never been done before. It's exciting starting the fire."
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