(This is the inaugural post in what is hopefully the beginning of a wonderful partnership between WTLC and the great New Zealand basketball site, NZ Hoops. Initially joined together by Thunder rookie Steven Adams, I believe we will find a great deal of camaraderie with our bros on the other side of the globe and I'm excited to see where we go from here. Our Kiwi connection is NZ Hoops writer Todd Jones, and he introduces himself and his site in this post. - Sherman)
Tell WTLC readers about yourself and NZ Hoops
NZhoops.co.nz started in March 2013 in the hope we could provide the basketball community with most comprehensive coverage of all things Kiwi basketball. We try to offer our loyal readers the best content in regards to our boys in the NBA and importantly we aim to provide excellent coverage of the sport in our own backyard, the New Zealand and Australian national leagues. We cover Kiwis in college as well as our national team, but most importantly the aim of NZhoops is to serve the local basketball community, providing a place for young talent to be recognized whilst giving young players something to follow and aspire to be involved in. Chris Wastney is the brainchild behind NZhoops and he has put together a group of very talented writers, which includes our go to man Niall Anderson as well as Sam Garriock to provide outstanding analysis. I simply watch every move Adams makes. He finds a place in Denver that sells meat pies? I know about it. He has an appointment at the barbers to get some maintenance on the best side part in the league? I know about it. He sends a christmas letter home? I know about it.
Personally, my pathway into basketball was the 1996 NBA finals; I was an eight-year-old sitting at home watching my first televised NBA games. Back then the Finals were the only NBA product broadcast into our living rooms all year, so I was mesmerized. Michael Jordan was making his first appearance in the finals since his gambling suspension/baseball experiment, but really it was another player who captured my heart. THE REIGN MAN SHAWN KEMP! He was one of my boys and prompted me to play junior basketball the following summer. I wore the number 40 whilst all of my teammates sported single digit numbers. Didn't matter to me, I had 40 on my back and my Stackhouse Reebok's with "Stack" written on the bottom of one shoe and "House" written on the other (I was unable to get Kemp's Reebok shoe so had to settle for Jerry).
From there I have followed basketball at all levels, even my partner is a basketballer. This makes for some intense one-on-one battles that usually finish with the decision that next time we should have a referee (I'm sorry honey, if you can't handle the heat on my blacktop then sit back down on the bleachers, fair to say I have to source my own dinner a lot of the time).
What is New Zealand's relationship with the Adams clan? We know that his sister is an Olympian. What else should we know about his family?
The Adams family is a big one, both in physical stature and in population. Steven's father Sid, who was born in England but settled in New Zealand after serving in the Navy, reportedly fathered 18 (possibly 21) children to five (possibly six) women. The Adams men average 6 feet 9 in height as the women averaged at 6 feet. The tallest of the women is Valerie, the two-time Olympic gold medalist you mentioned, she has a different mother to Steven but measures in at 6-4. Steven is the last of Sid's children.
Six of Adams' siblings played basketball for New Zealand. Two of Adams brothers - Warren and Ralph - played with and against Pitt Panther coach Jamie Dixon when he played professionally in New Zealand during the '89 and '90 seasons. Dixon was actually on the All-NBL first team and lead the league in scoring and assists in 1989 and 1990. This connection would aid Steven later in life. After his father passed away, at the age of 13 Steven became lost and even to a extent, depressed. Adams admitted the loss of his father was a big hit on him. He would skip school and hang out on the streets of Rotorua. It was at this point that older brother Warren heard about what was going on and stepped in, removing Adams from Rotorua and relocating him to live in the capital of Wellington.
It was here where Warren contacted a few of his friends in the know that helped put the then 15 year old on the right path. The two people credited for much of Adams' success are Blossom Cameron, the Scots College basketball coach, and former Washington State University player Kenny McFadden. Scots College turned out to be the only school prepared to take a chance on the young street kid who could barely communicate. The fact that Adams, who entered Scots College semi-literate was able to meet the recommended requirements to earn a scholarship to Jamie Dixon's Pitt outfit, was somewhat of a miracle but more so a reflection of the hard work Adams had put in.
The reason for Adams becoming a Panther? Jamie Dixon had been on a scouting trip to see English born but New Zealand native Rob Loe (current Saint Louis Billikens center) play for the New Zealand U-19 team. It was McFadden who directed Dixon to see the relatively unheard of Adams after a lunch during the 2009 world championships held in NZ. How can a 6-foot-10, 15 year-old go unheard of? To play in the New Zealand national program takes significant financial backing from the player's family, a $10,000 commitment, in fact. As Adams' family was in no position to put Adams in the national program, he remained under the tutelage of Cameron and McFadden.
I think fellow NZhoops writer Niall Anderson provides a good summary of Adams rise in popularity throughout the land of the long white cloud:
"For most, the small country of New Zealand started to notice Steven Adams when he declared for the draft. For me, it started a few years before that, in the confines of a high-school gym.
As someone a few years younger than Big Steve, you hear whispers. "Hey, there's a big guy at Scots College, He's putting up massive numbers, oh - and he's the brother of an Olympic gold medalist."
Sure bro, sure there is, you think. Turns out, my mates were right. Soon, Adams was the subject of articles, playing off the relation to his big sister, Valerie, the gold-medal winning shot-putter, and before long, he was playing in front of my own eyes in the National Basketball League in front of a crowd no bigger than 500.
I admit - I wasn't impressed. In my defense, I was 16. I didn't understand basketball nuance at that stage. My dad, a much more seasoned basketball observer, liked what he saw, and sure enough, so did everyone else. Pittsburgh soon came calling, and the general Kiwi public flocking along.
At Pitt, Adams' profile began to click with the general public. "Hey, maybe we can have another Kiwi NBA player on our hands." But as the season wore on and Adams toiled away to the tune of 7.2 and 6.3 rebounds, he faded from the national spotlight. "This guy needs time." "He won't get drafted." "It's silly to come out early." All these statements were seen in New Zealand media.
Yet, here he was. Declaring for the draft. Rising up draft boards. All of a sudden, he's on the Oklahoma City Thunder - and the glean of the public's eye. Everyone loves a winner in New Zealand.
Would he be as unilaterally loved if he played for say, the Milwaukee Bucks? Probably not. But with all his idiosyncrasies, Kiwi phrases and totally-Kiwi attitude, he's taken up a massive place of pride in the New Zealand sporting landscape.
Whether he becomes an All-Star, long-time veteran, or doesn't become a starter - it doesn't matter to most Kiwis. They're as proud as can be already.
If you would like to read more about the Adams family, I direct you to these two pieces at the Pittsburgh Post Gazzette and an extract by John Saker to which I am really keen to get my hands on the full version.
What is it with the NZ infatuation with food?
Have you heard about the sheep in New Zealand? There are eight sheep per person. People can't go outside, they are everywhere. Have you seen the Walking Dead? Well it's the same, just with sheep. So folks sit inside all day enjoying amazing roasts or the outstanding array of seafood from the extensive coastline. Then they finish it off with the staple Kiwi dessert of Pavlova.
From your point of view halfway around the world, how has Adams fit in with the Thunder and what is your impression of the Thunder culture?
Here's what we know about Oklahoma City and the Thunder.
I think the things that make Adams such a hero in his home country is what is endearing him to the Thunder organization and its fans. New Zealanders have no problem with a player that may be a bit rough around the edges, lack pure talent as long as they attack everything they do head on and approach the game with a workmen like attitude. No job is too big or too small for Kiwis and the stone cold Adams epitomizes that attitude. Steven's ability to take hits and recover from injuries has been well documented but they are the characteristics that make him the ideal ambassador for New Zealand.
Did you hear that during Adam's first training session he told the other forwards if they want to take their frustrations out they should take it out on him, as he loves the bump and grind style of play? Who doesn't want a teammate like that!
What is your prediction for the rest of the Thunder's season? What role do you see Adams playing as the playoffs approach?
I'm ready to make it a lock that they win the West. Whilst they only have a four game lead as of writing they are getting hustle and bustle Russel back along with their strength of schedule in the home stretch is the same as both the Spurs and Clippers.
I really think Adams will have a presence in the Playoffs. I'm not saying he will be starting in Game 7 of the western conference finals against the Warriors but he won't be a good looking bench warmer came April and May. It's noted that the playoffs is a different beast, it's where big bodies win out. All I know is I would not want to go against the young Kiwi in a seven game series and I can't imagine many other centers would want to either.
Finally, Since we've had such fun with Kiwi words on the site, I was wondering if you could write in your favorite Kiwi phrase that you think Americans would do well to adopt?
There are some great ones out there like "Chur" which I see has already been already been put into the lexicon but my personal favourite has to be "Activate the Beaver." The term was coined in honour of Stephen Donal aka "The Beaver" who kicked the winning penalty goal for the All Blacks (New Zealand's national rugby union team) in the 2011 World Cup final. So whenever Kiwis need to go H.A.M, they have to "Activate the Beaver!"
Thanks for having me, WTLC this has been choice.