Thursday, July 5th, 2012 at 11:56 am  |  19 responses

Adams’ Mark

Though he’s fairly new to the game—and the media hype, and the country—New Zealand native Steven Adams is poised to accomplish big things.

Originally published in SLAM 159

words Ryan Jones | portraits Trevor Paulhus

It doesn’t take much of a conversation with Steven Adams to realize that his accent might be the least unusual thing about him.

OK, the accent is pretty unusual.

The 6-10, 245-pound New Zealand native came to the US in January when he arrived from his faraway home for a semester at Fitchburg (MA) Notre Dame, so naturally his Kiwi accent remains prominent. But the more you learn about Adams, the more you understand that, by pretty much any standard, let alone that of a highly ranked high school basketball player, dude is unique.

Check the details: His mother was from Tonga. He’s one of 18 siblings (half-siblings included). One of his sisters is a former Olympic gold medalist in the shot put. He was orphaned and briefly lived on the streets in his early teens. There’s more, much of it less tangible, but no less interesting.

What it all adds up to is an 18-year-old kid with a background and upbringing unlike any other kid he’ll play with or against. An 18-year-old kid who admits that he was far more likely during his formative years to be watching cartoons than watching basketball, who only started playing organized ball five years ago, and only stepped into the high-profile US prep scene five months ago, and so knows nothing of the hype-generating machine that produced most of his new peers.

“Growing up away from all the media, that sort of stuff, I think it was a huge benefit for me,” Adams says. “If I got used to it at a young age, if that’s all I grew up to know, I’d probably start expecting it. But I don’t believe in it. I think it’s all bullshit, really.”

He’s getting a whiff of the hype now, and there’s no BS about it. Impressive showings against top 2012 big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Nerlens Noel during his brief run at Notre Dame Prep confirmed that the high expectations on Adams’ arrival were fully justified. Lean and athletic, he’s a gifted defender and rebounder and gets up and down the floor. He’s understandably still a bit raw offensively, but given that he spends most of an interview talking about how much he enjoys working on his game, that figures not to be a weakness for long. “I love working out, just knowing that I’m actually getting better,” he says. “I just love making progress.”

Adams says he spent most of his practice time in New Zealand doing individual workouts and that he’s struggled with the transition to a team focus in practice. It’s another area in which Adams simply doesn’t fit the mold, and yet he thrives in spite—or maybe because—of it. He’ll be at Pitt next fall, one of the nation’s top recruits at one of the nation’s better programs in maybe the best conference in the country. Most kids in his situation would be thinking one-and-done and have their first sports car already picked out.

Steven Adams is not most kids.

“I had no expectations when I came here. I thought I’d be average, like a normal basketball player,” he says. “All this, it hasn’t really hit me yet. I haven’t even been to college yet. I never really looked at myself as a great player. I just train and play. I just try to deal with what’s happening now.”

Which is an unusual thing for a guy in Steven Adams’ position to say. Which, in other words, sounds about right.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/tripledouble TripleDouble

    Yesssssss!!! I’ll be watching this kid!!

  • todd_10

    Nice to see another member of the Adams family doing big things. Good luck bro! Good to see another NZer possibly NBA bound!

  • Shane NZ

    Great article, hope he does well and has big things ahead for him!!

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/the-magazine/features/2012/07/steven-adams-mark/#2 thePhoenix

    This guy is a genuinely nice guy, humble and talented. Great to see NZ being put on the map and recognized here at Slam. I played against him in Wellington a couple of times and well, needless to say, he dominated. Our center is 6’4″. Lol. And what most people don’t realize is that he can handle the ball. I’ve seen him multiple times get a rebound, go coast to coast, put the ball behind his back and dunk it at the other end. I played on his older brother’s team, and the brother is the shortest in the family of the guys and he’s 6’6″!

  • http://Somethingsomething. Ugh

    He’s got a good body. Did he play in the NZNBL?

  • Enzed

    Yea he played for the Saints. I think he was the Rookie if the year

  • Cain

    Yeah he played a season for the Wellington Saints, defensively he was dominant. His offence needed work though and he didn’t start.

  • Ryan

    Awesome article, good to see NZ getting some love from Slam. One qualm though: “One of his sisters is a former Olympic gold medalist in the shot put.” there’s nothing former about Valerie Adams, she’s the reigning Olympic and three time world champ and holds the world championship record, she’ll dominate for some time now, hopefully Steve will too.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/the-magazine/features/2012/07/steven-adams-mark/ thePhoenix

    And he has great touch and a nice shooting stroke, not uncoordinated like a lot of bigs.

    Yeah he played in the NZNBL, for the Wellington Saints who have won 2 of the last 3 championships. But for some reason he didn’t get a lot of minutes, even though he would have been arguably the best player in the league. He wouldn’t take any pay either, to retain amateur status for college ball.

  • Matua Bronson

    This young man is a fantastic talent and humble, I can’t wait for him to hit the big stage. I think he will eventually lead by example on the court, earn respect from his team and rivals where we are all going to witness something special. I watched him play U19 Men’s and then take off to play for the Wellington Saints and then turn up the next day for U19 Mens Final and absolutely dominated. Phenominal Talent. Good Luck Steven Adams

  • panos

    Guys, seriously, this 6-10 thing about Adams HAS to stop. Unless there are official measurements showing his height as 6-10, of course. The guy is a legit 7-footer, as he and his coaches have repeatedly stated in the past, and you can see it everywhere, he is slightly taller (an inch or so) than 6-11 Noel, and in a video showing him standing next to 7-footer Isiah Austin, Adams is clearly taller. There is no need to wait for next years pre-draft measurements, this kid is constantly being robbed, being written everywhere as 6-10

  • http://www.slamonline.com Chubachuchi

    Nice kid and he’s half Polynesian i knew it lol

  • will

    dam it’s so weird to think he’s the same year in school as me! good to see NZ getting a shout, wish the best for him!

  • blakos


  • http://www.slamonline.com Raven

    this is awesome, two Tongans climbing up the ranks, Steven Adams and Jabari Parker

  • http://whut Ugh

    Watched some videos on YouTube of this guy. His offensive footwork is actually really good, his movement toward the ball I really like, got plenty of spring, could have easily dunked his putbacks. The only thing I don’t like is his terrible release – from the elbow forward it’s appalling. Needs a shooting coach on that ASAP. Otherwise he looks fantastic.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelJR_NZ Michael NZ

    Great to see on here! Nice article, Ryan.

  • Hamish

    His sister Valerie is current olympic shotput champion, not former, and hasn’t lost in any event since getting that gold. So is favorite again for gold. Talented family.

  • LioLocke

    I am a Kiwi (a.k.a New Zealander) and we are very proud of what Adams has accomplished. By the way, in the second paragraph, his sister is a CURRENT gold medalist :) I am 100% sure Adams will be in the NBA next year. Regardless, what team he plays for..he’s got my support.