Kiwi basketballer Steven Adams is fast making a name for himself in the NBA and his new home town of Oklahoma City.
Despite his rapid rise and confidence in his own ability Adams seems to have maintained his Kiwi humility.
The 12th pick in this year's NBA draft, Adams has landed with a legitimate NBA championship contender and is soaking up all the knowledge he can accommodate in his seven-foot frame from the Thunder coaching staff.
Adams comes to the NBA after spending his formative years in Rotorua, Scots College in Wellington and one year at the University of Pittsburgh last American winter.
The Thunder, like all NBA teams, have specific coaches for each position on staff and Adams' coach Mark Bryant is very experienced, with the 2013-14 season being his tenth as an assistant coach, which followed a 17-year playing career. Bryant is the big man coach so works with Adams and team-mates Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins amongst others.
"It has been a big, huge step-up. But it is more technical and you get more direction from specific coaches who are great at their job," Adams said.
Adams has focussed on getting the feel of the NBA game and the progression from the college game, and feels he has improved, especially at the defensive end.
"Training is probably 15 times harder than college. But it's good though, as you see your progress straight away."
Adams is frequently involved with defending pick and rolls on court which at all levels of basketball is a difficult proposition, and more testing given the lighting-quick guards in the NBA.
"You have to get the reactions right, say the right words. So it's quite hard for me, but it's getting better," Adams said.
Offensively Adams is working on his shots that come from out of the offence. He has been effective tidying up put-backs and scoring after penetration from guards and double-teams on Durant.
Each day Adams reviews prepared video clips and breakdowns and receives specific scouting information on upcoming opponents from the coaches. He admits there is a lot of information to take in during the scouting and compares it to a cram study session at times, with little time between games, and putting the tactics into practice on the court is difficult.
After perhaps the Thunder's best team performance of the season in a win over the defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio, snapping their 11-game win streak, Adams is focussed on the next game in their 82-game regular season schedule and getting better each day.
"I look forward to every game. The thing with the NBA is you have to take it game-by-game," said Adams.
"Even after a game like tonight, you just have to forget about it. No matter if it was a good or a bad game, you need a short-term memory."
Adams is certainly making the most of his opportunities averaging 4.5 points and 4.9 rebounds from 18 minutes per game. During a win over Detroit early in November, he had a double-double with 17 points on 7/10 shooting and 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks from 31 minutes.
This is phenomenal considering many experts thought he would be spending the season with the Thunder feeder team, the Tulsa 66ers, in the NBDL.
His minutes are expected to fluctuate game-by-game with coach Brooks noting the depth of his team and that he will go with what is working on a nightly basis.
Adams is enjoying his time in Oklahoma City, which is the state capital of Oklahoma located just below the middle of the USA and north of Texas.
"It's just like Christchurch, only more spread out," Adams said.
The population of the city is 600,000 and the Thunder is the hottest ticket in town with the squad reaching the 2012 NBA Finals and having two ESPN-ranked top five players in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Home games are played at Chesapeake Arena in the heart of downtown adjacent to the entertainment district of Bricktown.
On the American cuisine front, Adams says is enjoying it, but misses Kiwi food and recently found an restaurant in town that served lamb much to his pleasure.
He has had visitors from New Zealand already to watch him play who had 'Made in Rotorua' signs that made it onto television.
Oklahoma natives also seem like how he fits with the organisation and upon subbing into the game he receives a healthy cheer.
Adams acknowledged the achievements of the Kiwi pioneer Sean Marks who had blazed a trail as a player, front office staff member and is now an assistant coach with the Spurs, and he had a chance to meet him after the draft.
Adams is conscious and hopeful of the increased potential benefits of his success in the NBA and what it can bring for up-and-coming Kiwi players.
"The main thing now is the amount of awareness that New Zealand has talent. We are trying to build on that momentum," Adams said.
"Now we are having more young players signing with universities, so that's a huge step."
"Kids don't have to play only rugby. Not that anything is bad with that," said Adams. "There's another path you can go down and you can use it to get a scholarship and your degree."
While being unavailable for the Tall Blacks Oceania series last year, he hopes to play for the national team during his career.
Like past NBA player Sean Marks, Adams would require a clearance from the Thunder including insurance issues to navigate through before he could suit up.
With Adam's physical gifts, affable personality and thirst for knowledge, the only way is up.
- Piet Van Hasselt is a freelance basketballer writer from Christchurch
Adams' Kiwi sense of humour also seems to have been a hit in the US with NBA TV sending a camera along to film as he went hunting for a house in Oklahoma City.
- © Fairfax NZ News