Viewpoint Desperate times call for some healthy perspective for Jalen Adams and UConn
STORRS — Dan Hurley used the word desperate. So did Jalen Adams.
It’s a funny word, desperate. In this case, UConn’s coach and best player were talking about avoiding a loss to SMU at home Thursday and falling to 0-3 in the American Athletic Conference heading into a difficult game at Cincinnati on Saturday.
An uncomfortable wind, a stormy squall, has been pushing through Huskies fans the past few weeks. A growing desperation, if you will, that early expectations giddily inflated by a victory over Syracuse is crashing into a losing season. An even more growing desperation, masked by the guise of perspective and great hope for the future, that, hey, this first season under Hurley never really mattered much anyway.
To purveyors of both entrees of desperation, we humbly submit you grow a set of, oh, basketballs.
When a team falls apart in the second half against a good Villanova team, mails it in for an embarrassing effort at USF and is snuffed defensively by a good UCF team, the weight of a three-game losing streak naturally falls on the new coach and the best player.
That’s the way it should be.
They’ve got to figure it out practice by practice, game by game.
“We’re trying to find new ways to try and open things for Jalen, because the court has been really crowded for him,” Hurley said Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion.
Alterique Gilbert, a McDonald’s All-American, saw two years of his college basketball life ground up like, well, ground beef because of shoulder surgeries. Adams had the ball in his hands all the time last season. He averaged 38 minutes a game. He wasn’t a combination guard. He was an everything guard. He made great decisions. He made bad decisions. He drove the lane to the point of exhaustion.
This season Gilbert is the point guard. Yes, it is Adams’ senior year and Hurley laid a great challenge down for Adams in convincing him to remain at UConn. Hurley would hold him to the highest possible standard every day in order to be the be one of the best guards in the nation and an NBA draft pick. And, yes, he suspended Adams briefly for lack of off-court diligence.
Gilbert and Adams also are only 15 games into this new dimension. That’s not an excuse. That’s an evolving on-court relationship.
“I think we’re still figuring out how to play with each other,” Adams said. “I think we’re getting better as the season goes on, him finding me, me finding him.”
“For Al, it’s like his freshman year in college,” Hurley said. “Age-wise, he’s not your typical freshman. It’s his first go-around. It takes a while to develop some chemistry, how to play off each other, where guys like the ball. I would say probably what we’re doing at the defensive end has probably hurt Jalen more at the offensive end. How hard we’re trying to get the guys to play man, instead of sitting in a zone, resting on defense.”
While Adams shot 2-for-10 against UCF and disappeared when it mattered most on the offensive end, to his credit he did hold B.J. Taylor to 12 points.
“Jalen’s probably exerting a lot more energy at the defensive end this year,” Hurley said. “I would say it is also the lack of an inside game and lack of guys around taking pressure of him. If he had some shooting around him and an inside game, things would be a lot more open for him. He has got a lot on his shoulders. There’s not a lot of proven production around him both at the three-point line and in the interior. So they’re ganging up on him.”
And so are a lot of UConn observers. He’s no Kemba! He’s no Shabazz! Can’t wait until next year when he’s gone! Can’t wait for Akok Akok! Can’t wait to see what bigs Danny can get!
That stuff is a great disservice to this team, this season, to Adams, especially in January. Sometimes perspective is the long view, but sometimes perspective is the short view. Relax. Hurley will not be judged on 2018-2019. Nobody with brains ever said he would.
And because they are 9-6 and Adams has been up and down is no reason to prematurely throw up the white flag, dismiss Adams or insulate yourself from the hurt by focusing on future recruiting.
No, they’re not going to win 30 games. They never were. And, yes, Hurley has brought in expectations of ferocity on defense and high-energy transition on defense that have at times brought a string on unseemly turnovers. He slowed down tempo. The turnovers have not disappeared. They can still get 20 wins. They can still make a big run in the AAC Tournament. Duke, Michigan and Kansas, at last check, won’t be there. So who knows? And if they happened to go to the NIT and make a big run, that is momentum that can carry over to next season.
And Adams? People playing better around him, Hurley said, is the only solution. Adams, of course, can try playing more consistently, too.
“I don’t know that last year’s team was a lot more well-rounded, so he’s probably used to it,” Hurley said of the pressure. “The best thing Jalen does with the ball right now is drive it. Putting him on the ball, putting him off the ball, people are standing in gaps, in ball screens and dribble handoffs, they’re sending a defender and a half, a lot of times, two defenders at him. What will remedy things is having some guys who make some shots around him.”
The mounting pressure?
“I don’t really get too much into it or let it get to me,” Adams said. “Every time I’m out here with my teammates if I’m not feeling it, they’re going to try to take over. And vice versa. If I am feeling it, they’ll keep feeding me. I don’t worry about the pressure buildup on myself.
“There’s definitely a lot more help than previous years. I’ve got to do a better job adjusting and making the extra pass earlier, knowing that I don’t have to always get down here and score or be the one who to get the assist. I can get the hockey assists, more of a willing passer will go a long way for me.”
A hockey assist can be a second assist, like Vital (Gilbert, Adams).
“I’m not a hockey guy, but I went to a hockey school at Cushing Academy,” Adams said.
Hurley has invested much energy in him. I asked him how Adams has met all that energy.
“I think he’s getting there,” Hurley said. “This is a completely different set of expectations. I think he’s gotten better as we’ve gone along. The way we’ve all handled the failure of last week has been a really positive step. I’m hopeful you’ll see a really good performance from him tomorrow and a really hungry and desperate team.”
Sometimes the next game is the correct perspective. Let this season and Jalen Adams’ last UConn season evolve to its completion.