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Starkey: Patience required with Pitt's Adams

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 10:42 p.m.
Pitt's Steven Adams says he's starting to feel comfortable in the Panthers' offense. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

The much-anticipated Steven Adams debut was … well, what was it, exactly?

What do we have here?

I found myself wracking my brain — and picking the brains of Pitt's coaches — after the Panthers' 80-48 rout of Mount St. Mary's on Friday.

Who did Adams remind me of?

No one, really.

What is the staple of his game?

Hard to tell. He seems to do a bit of everything, some of it in amazingly coordinated fashion for a man 7-foot, 250 pounds with size-20 shoes.

He certainly is not a low-post scoring machine. Not now. If you're expecting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O'Neal, best adjust your lenses. This is a different kind of cat. This is more like a small forward in a giant's body.

I am positive Pittsburgh has never seen an athlete like Adams, on or off the court, and might not know what to make of him.

“Not many people come up to me,” Adams said. “Maybe they think I'm scary or something.”

The only scary thing about the camera-shy Adams is his prodigious talent. It's just hard to tell how and when it will fully blossom.

Remember, he played barely half a season at Notre Dame Prep last winter. He'd spent his basketball life before that in New Zealand, not exactly a hoops Mecca. He'd never played in a game as fast as Pitt's opener, and that was against Mount St. Mary's.

This roller-coaster ride is crawling up the first climb, and nobody's been on one quite like it before.

“Him being from New Zealand just adds to the mystery, to the intrigue for people,” coach Jamie Dixon said after Adams put up eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two assists. “His personality adds to it — and it's different. He's going to say some things that may come off as strange, things understood in mainstream New Zealand but maybe not here. We call it Kiwi humor.”

Dixon laughed and added, “I guess that makes it more entertaining.”

We all agreed on these central facts:

• Adams is legitimately oblivious to the hype and harbors no desire to be “the man.” How that plays out — say, late in games when somebody has to be the man — will be interesting.

• His game is part raw and part refined. He'll block a layup, then step out to block a 3. He snaps a wicked outlet pass. He spots open men and gets the ball to them quickly, sometimes creatively.

On the other hand, he'll probably want to curtail those one-armed rebounds, judging from one coach's reaction, and his low-post game is undeveloped. Pitt didn't throw it to him inside until nearly eight minutes in.

• Man, can Adams run. He'll trail the break like a speeding freight train and finish with a flying alley-oop dunk. Which is precisely how he scored his first collegiate basket.

I spent time with Adams a day earlier and found him to be engaging and funny.

“When I was a little kid, I used to watch a lot of movies about America, so I thought it was like heaven,” he said. “When I got here, it was amazing.”

Like heaven?

“Pretty close. Far off in some places.”

How about when other schools swooped in long after Dixon — who played professionally in New Zealand with two of Adams' brothers — had secured a verbal commitment?

“I didn't want to talk to any other dudes; I thought they were weird,” Adams said. “I'd already committed to Jamie.”

Unless he's a wonderful actor (and he recently withdrew from his acting class, so that's in doubt), Adams really is unmindful of the massive expectations. He figures if he keeps Dixon happy, he's OK — and Dixon's demands are easily decipherable.

“As long as I follow his system,” Adams said, “I should be fine.”

I'm told Adams practically lives at the academic center. He says his greatest on-court thrill is helping a teammate look good, and he insists he isn't thinking about the NBA.

I believe him.

Look, once you peel away the hype, we're talking about a 19-year-old who just got to this country and frankly admits the whole deal is downright nerve-racking.

There's no rush here.

Let the mystery unfold.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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