Hassan Adams - What Went Wrong...and Can Go Right Again

Back in October 2004, things were going well for Hassan Adams, the 6’4" Arizona swingman. He had just returned from the FIBA Young Mens' championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and getting ready for his junior season in Tucson.

Draftniks were noticing his potential. He had been the high scorer for the 'Cats the year before, putting up 17 points per game, better than teammates Andre Iguodala, Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire. He had shot 38.4% from beyond the arc, 54.2% overall.

He had been a star among stars at the FIBA tournament as well. He averaged 10.8 points and a team-leading 2.5 steals. Sean May had paced that squad by scoring at a rate of 16.0 ppg. Chris Paul scored at a 10.5 point clip and Adam Morrison at 8.3. Charlie Villaneuva who came off the bench, hit for 5.0. And the team had won the gold medal with a 5-0 record, which Adams had helped seal with a clutch free throw against Puerto Rico.

The team's coach, Kelvin Sampson, couldn't say enough nice things about him: "Adams impressed beyond words for us. He led with his warrior mentality. He definitely was the most athletic player on the team. Hassan really surprised us with his sharp outside shooting, and you couldn’t ask for a better rounded person who seemed to provide some leadership and passion to give his 100% all of the time."

He had been chosen to be a camp counsellor at Michael Jordan's annual summer camp in Santa Barbara, north of his Inglewood, California home. "I just want people to know I’m a good guy," he told a reporter at the camp.

So it was no surprise that in the preseason mock drafts, the former California "Mr. Basketball" was seen as a top pick. NBADraft.net had him at #11, a lottery pick. Pro Basketball News had him at #20. Frye, eventually taken at #8 by the Knicks, was projected at #33 and #23; Stoudamire, taken at #31 by the Hawks, was supposed to go at #33 or not at all.

So what happened?

On June 28 of this year, Adams barely made the grade, being selected at #54 by the Nets. Twenty-six of the NBA’s 30 teams passed on him at least once. Portland passed on him four times, Seattle three times, both painful disses since he had played his college ball in the PAC-10.

A lot of players drop even farther and in a lot shorter periods of time. That same year, both Chris Taft and Martynas Andriuskevicius had been listed at #1 early on by NBADraft.net, only to fall to #42 and #44 on draft night 2005 (sandwiched around Mile Ilic).

But in most cases, drops like that have to do with on-court issues and certainly Adams did not play up to his sophomore year performance in either his junior or senior years, or at least he didn’t show the expected improvement. After shooting nearly 40% from downtown as a sophomore, he barely topped 25% as a senior. His free throw percentage dipped from nearly 75% to just above 60%.

There were questions about his focus. His game had also become inconsistent, as if he only got up for the big ones. He often played well against top flight competition--like his 32-point, 5-for-7 from downtown performance against Brandon Roy, but less so against lesser opponents. And in spite of his great athleticism--45" vertical leap--and wingspan--6'10", he was seen as a "tweener", not a good enough shooter to play shooting guard, not tall or strong enough to play small forward. Finally, just before the draft, he had to stop working out when it was discovered he had a stress fracture in his foot.

What really hurt his draft stock were off-court issues: three incidents in his senior year, two involving driving and one suggesting a problem with authority. None were felonies, like the robbery charge that caused Marcus Williams to drop. Still, their frequency had to be troubling to NBA general managers who are increasingly concerned about image and not willing to commit long term to a player whose exploits are as likely to appear on the front page as the sports page.

On December 11, 2005, he was charged with disorderly conduct after he disobeyed police orders to leave a party in the parking lot of his apartment, say police. Three months later, on March 5, 2006, he was charged with driving under the influence after he was caught with a blood-alcohol level over 0.08 and speeding between 1 and 10 mph over the limit. Then, after the season, another incident. On May 9, he was charged with speeding almost 20 mph over the posted 35-mph limit in Tucson and for not having a legible driver's license. In early June, he pleaded guilty to speeding and the other charge was dropped.

As one blogger put it: "Adams is the team leader in points, steals and citations."

The second incident led to his being suspended for the PAC-10 tournament, and his game took a dive. Two weeks before, Adams was riding high. He was named a midseason candidate for the Naismith Award, college basketball’s most prestiguous. He was averaging 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 24 games at the time. His game never recovered. All those stats dropped as the season wore on.

A look at his standing in the mock drafts showed a drop off as well. It would it was the final incident, in May, that hurt the most. He was ranked #21 just before the DUI arrest and was still at #29 after the season, both by NBADraft.net. By the time the final mocks came out, he was ranked as low as #47, still not as low as he actually went.

All this in spite of some very good workouts. The Nets were impressed by his toughness since he continued playing during the workout in spite of what turned out to be a stress fracture. In a Blazer workout spied by a sports writer from the Oregonian, he showed that at least his mid range game was competitive with some of the top players in the draft.

As described by writer Jason Quick: "The players then conducted a drill where they tried to make as many shots as possible in a minute while bouncing between two pre-assigned spots around the key from about 17 feet.

"Twice, [Brandon] Roy outshot [Adam] Morrison, making 14 in a minute to Morrison's 13, then making 16 in the last drill to outshoot everybody -- Morrison had 12 in that one with Hassan Adams making 13 and Rudy Gay 11."

He also had the endorsement of two former Wildcats who did well in the NBA, one his roommate. Richard Jefferson of the Nets even advised New Jersey to take him at #23, after stealing Marcus Williams at #22. The Nets went with Josh Boone instead, then waited out the other teams deep into the second round. Iguodala of the Sixers said simply: "I thought he would go much earlier."

In fact, the Nets always liked Adams and Ed Stefanski said the team did indeed consider taking Adams at #23. And if you think that was typical post-draft hype, take a look at what Stefanski said in his Nets blog the day before the draft: "In the shooting guard situation, Hassan Adams from Arizona is very good. Then there are the Michigan State kids, you’ve got Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown. Both were real good in our workouts here. James White from Cincinnati was interesting. And you know Quincy Douby from Rutgers is going to be able to score." Stefanski seemed to be saying the Nets ranked Adams ahead of Brown, taken at #25, Ager, taken at #28, and White taken at #31. [In the same blog, Stefanski also wrote: "At point guard, I think that Marcus Williams from UConn is terrific" and "We like Josh Boone from Connecticut", qualifying Stefanski as the Net Nostradamus.]

The Nets were certainly happy with the pick, seeing Adams, whose nickname is "Hot Sauce", as an energy player off the bench, something the team has lacked. The team is also getting a rep for taking chances on players with tarnished reps, trading for Kidd after his domestic assault charge in Phoenix, trading for Carter after his trade demand and lacklustre effort in Toronto, and of course drafting Williams earlier on Draft Night.

So what next?

Adams has not been heard from since the draft. He was unavailable for comment after the draft and hasn't been quoted since. He is finally in New Jersey, completing the rehab from his stress fracture and working with Coach Lawrence Frank. It’s expected that the Nets will soon announce the signings of Adams and Ilic [uniform numbers 8 and 9] together, book-ending their rookie signings with July's announcement that Williams and Boone [uniform numbers 1 and 2] had joined the club.

Jefferson promises to help the younger Wildcat and is quite confident Adams will surprise, telling the Arizona University student newspaper: "Unfortunately, he slipped to the second round, but I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that he gets an opportunity, to make sure that he does the right things so that he ultimately will be successful in his role.

"We drafted him because we can use him, we drafted him because we believe he can play, and we know he's capable of doing a lot of things", Jefferson added.

The coaches at Arizona, who know a thing or two about undervalued draft choices, think the Nets got a steal.

Lute Olson, who has seen more of his players get drafted than any active college coach, said this about Adams the day after the draft: "It's a great get for the Nets. In fact, I think they stole two. Marcus Williams should have gone a lot higher (than No. 22), and so should have Hassan. I'm sure the Nets didn't think either one of them would be available."

As for the DUI charge, which is still pending: "They [the Nets] look at more than just an isolated incident. They're taking a guy based on the whole picture. It's like with (the DUI charge on) J.J. Redick. The guy is a great guy, just like Hassan is. I don't know Marcus Williams that well, but I think that was the first kind of situation he's been in."

Josh Pastner, Olson’s assistant, said the Nets’ style will help Adams. "The way they play is going to fit his style, and secondly the general manager has come out and said he's 100 percent to make the team, and I think Hassan is going to play in the league for a long time."

Every year, a lottery pick, even one picked as high as 11, is a bust and almost every year, a player or two taken after #50 makes GM’s want to kick themselves: Manu Ginobili in 1999, Darius Songaila and Rasual Butler in 2002, Kyle Korver in 2003, Vassilus Spanoulis in 2004, Ryan Gomes in 2005.

Maybe this year, Adams will be that surprise. Seems like it will be up to him.

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