Viewpoint With UConn soon in his past, Jalen Adams prepares for the reality of his future
STORRS — The narrative on Senior Nights invariably involves the past. What cute stories parents can tell us about a rambunctious 5-year-old. What high school and AAU coaches can tell us about the obstacles of development. It becomes a formulaic bouquet of flowers with a framed jersey and framed memories.
With Jalen Adams, there is no shortage of analysis on what he accomplished and what he did not at Storrs. He will be remembered for his 75-foot miracle that propelled the Huskies to a 2016 NCAA Tournament appearance. He also be remembered for the 75 times he failed to live up to the fans’ lofty expectations of becoming the latest in a line of the school’s transcendent guards.
Adams will walk out onto the court with his family Thursday for UConn Senior Night at Gampel Pavilion. He will not run out there moments later as part of the Huskies’ starting lineup against Temple. The MCL sprain in his left knee will not allow this.
Yet as Adams remains stuck in the portal or playing or not playing in his final UConn days, it seems especially fitting this week in a broader sense to look toward the future.
Recent days, heady days during decidedly not heady times with UConn basketball, show us it is a subject worth discussing. Headline the subject: Senior Night On The Way To The Rest Of Their Lives.
“Every coach has their own culture, no culture is better than another coach’s culture,” coach Dan Hurley said. “Mine is a holistic approach, the whole person development. When you take that deep of a dive with these guys, in terms of being involved in every facet of their life, you get to know their families on a deep level. It becomes a 30-, 40-year journey together because of how deeply connected you get, because you care about every aspect of what they are doing.”
Those are important, inspiring words. They define a demanding coach, a caring mentor.
From the 20-year celebration of the first UConn national championship to the uniform retirements of Rebecca Lobo and Ray Allen, there have been warm memories the past two weekends. It has been a love-in for an athletic department that could use some loving.
And then Khalid El-Amin is led into Hartford Superior Court in handcuffs and leg shackles on Monday after spending the night in Hartford Correctional Center.
If these two weeks don’t preach the joy of sports and the realities of life to UConn fans, nothing will. One minute, Khalid is regaling us with stories of how the ’99 team shocked the world. The next comes a Hartford Courant report that he owes $126,000 in delinquent child support to a Hartford-area woman for one of his seven children — a daughter born 18 years ago.
It was embarrassing to the school and everyone who loves to celebrate Khalid. It should be humiliating to El-Amin.
A few days after the 1999 national championship, El-Amin got busted for a small amount of marijuana in Hartford. It was child’s play compared to ducking out on 126 grand. UConn celebrated the 20th anniversary of that seminal title and Khalid gets busted again. He is ordered to pay nearly $800 a month. He told the judge he will make good.
There are some national-flag blue waving fans who will do anything they can to disconnect the joys from the realities. There are cynics who will go out of their way to undercut UConn. I have been accused of both. Hurley’s holistic approach is the right one. It also is a two-way street. That means a player goes from Senior Night to become a responsible adult, a good husband and father.
Adams will graduate this spring in urban and community studies. Unless there’s an AAC Tournament miracle, he also will leave as the first player since Tate George to make the NCAA Tournament only once in four seasons at UConn.
“That definitely sucks,” Adams said. “I came here to get more exposure in March. Sometimes people have to learn from adversity. I think that that’s my situation.”
George is now a guest of the New Jersey penal system. After his dramatic shot in the 1990 NCAA Sweet 16, Tate was the darling of Connecticut sports. He showed us anything was possible. It also was possible he’d get nine years for a real estate Ponzi scheme in which he bilked investors, including UConn’s Charlie Villanueva, out of $2.55 million.
Ben Gordon went through troubling stuff in 2017. Kevin Ollie is locked in one of the nastiest contractual fights in the history of Connecticut athletics. Spit happens. Life happens. There are so many more players with great life stories. Caron Butler was once on a gang-banger’s road to nowhere and look at the inspiration he became.
The point here is not to pick on any one man or give any one man a free pass. It’s to point out that Senior Night is more than a framed jersey. It is the first step to the rest of a player’s life.
When he took the job, Hurley convinced Adams if he fully committed, he would be picked in the two-round NBA draft.
“If not, one of us didn’t do our job this year,” Hurley said.
Some spotty play and the injury changed the dynamics, but not the dream.
“I definitely think I have the talent and what it takes to play in the NBA,” Adams said.
On this day, Adams said all the right things. Yes, there are a lot of expectations at UConn, but they’re good expectations. “In some cases,” he said, “you kind of get too much pressure on you and it’s overwhelming. But I felt in my time here it has been a positive thing.”
All those great guards before him, their banners hanging in the practice facility? “Definitely not a burden,” he said. “If anything, it inspired me … It’s never like, damn, I didn’t live up to what they did.”
He talked about how he wanted to be remembered as being a good guy with his teammates and coaching staff. “Because,” he said. “that stuff lasts forever.” Adams will be remembered as a good guy, a happy-go-lucky guy who occasionally would do stupid stuff like crash a scooter and leave the scene of the accident.
Hurley called Adams as talented as just about any player he has ever coached.
“He needs to mature,” Hurley said. “He needs to develop … obsess over his craft. He can play in the NBA or have a very lucrative career playing somewhere. He’s the type of guy who can do anything with his life after that, because he’s smart and personable.”
This was the holistic coach talking. The one who still talks to guys he coached — “all of them” — like Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith from St. Benedict’s Prep, big names who have their own share of realities.
“Text messages, on the phone, a weekend at my house,” Hurley said. “I take a high school coach’s approach. You stay connected forever.”
On Senior Night, as another group prepares to enter the real world, it is something to remember.