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Starkey: Adams faces long road

| Sunday, April 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Steven Adams still isn't ready for college basketball, let alone the NBA.

But I'm rooting for him. How could anybody not?

I found it admirable that Adams declared for the NBA Draft after a nondescript freshman year at Pitt. He obviously is a well-intentioned kid who wants to help his struggling family in New Zealand.

I just wonder if the family could have held on for one more year, on the strong chance that Adams would have put himself in better position to help them for generations, rather than possibly just a short-term fix.

Ask a retired professional athlete how fast a pile of money can disappear when many hands are in it.

Who could blame Adams for making the jump? Nobody, really, but that is a different question than these:

• Will he maximize his earning potential?

• Will he even make it?

Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix told me that every NBA general manager he has spoken with labeled Adams' leap some version of “a dumb move.” Mannix predicts Adams will go in the lower third of the first round and perhaps even drop to the second.

If he goes late in the first, he could be costing himself more than $4 million right off the bat — compared to what he would get as a possible top-10 pick next year — and untold millions later if he does not develop.

First-round picks are assured only two years of salary. Last year's fifth pick, Thomas Robinson, got a two-year guarantee of $6.9 million. Compare that to the 25th pick, Tony Wroten, who got $2.2 million.

Injury risk and all, Adams' best financial bet was to return to Pitt and enhance his stock.

And yes, I know the Mark Blount story. That's the one people reflexively cite when somebody questions an underdeveloped player entering the draft. Would those same people cite the Rocky story if somebody asked for advice on becoming a boxer?

Blount left Pitt after his sophomore year and was drafted 54th overall. He bounced around several leagues before returning to the NBA and landing a $38 million contract.

Great stuff. Now check out the 10 players drafted 54th between 2000-09: Corey Hightower, Maurice Jeffers, Mladen Sekularac, Rickey Paulding, Dijon Thompson, Hassan Adams, Brad Newley, Maarty Leunen, Robert Vaden and Willie Warren.

Adams should go much higher than 54th, but you get the point: There are far more cautionary tales — tales Adams himself was well-versed in — than success stories.

I also wonder about Adams' emotional readiness for pro basketball. He has lived a largely unsettled life and remains relatively new to this country. He's 19. How will he adapt to life on the road, living out of hotel rooms, rarely playing? And that's if he avoids starting in the Developmental League.

I'll always believe Adams was intent on coming back to Pitt before he returned to New Zealand for a recent visit. A newspaper there was the first to interview him.

Here's an excerpt from The Dominion Post of Wellington:

Adams came home to see his family in Rotorua and didn't like what he found.

“It's quite sad to see your family struggle,” Adams said. “I don't want to see that anymore.”

As has been well-documented, Adams is the youngest of 18 children. His father died when he was 13. He lived troubled teen years on the streets of his native Rotorua.

The newspaper said Adams was vague about which family members needed help.

I hope for their sake he makes it big.

I hope the money doesn't go too fast.

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

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