By Chuckie Maggio, @chuckiemaggio
After a year of watching and waiting, one of the most highly-anticipated Bonaventure recruits in recent memory is ready to take off.
Anyone who’s seen Jalen Adams attack the rim knows “take off” is literal in a sense; the 6-5 guard from Saginaw, Michigan has a 40-inch vertical leap. To compare, Harrison Barnes’s vertical at the 2012 NBA Combine was 38 inches.
That athleticism helped Adams average 25 points in his senior year at Arthur Hill High School, located about an hour and a half outside of Detroit. His team finished 19-4 that year and won the Saginaw Valley League championship, while his play earned him a spot on the Associated Press Class A All-State team. He was also named The Saginaw News Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Adams was recruited by a bevy of major Division I schools, including Michigan, Villanova and USC, before choosing St. Bonaventure.
Unfortunately for Adams, he would have to redshirt for the 2013-14 season after being ruled academically ineligible. He was still able to practice with the team and develop as a player, but he was not able to play in games.
“I was crushed,” he said. “Sometimes we were down and I feel like I could have done something to help out. I felt like I wasn’t there for my team, but it really opened my eyes for this year.
“I feel like I can fill out the things we didn’t do last year. I thought I could’ve helped out on defense with rebounding, getting a steal and pressuring the ball. I also could have helped out by getting a bucket when we needed one.”
Adams’s defense has not been highlighted as much as his offense, but he thinks his entire game is being overlooked a bit.
“To be honest, I think I’m underrated at everything,” he said. “People have seen me play in a scrimmage but they haven’t seen me in action against another team. The first game is my first chance to show what I can do. I’m not backing down from anybody or any challenge; if the team needs me to do something, I’m going to do it.”
What’s not clear is if the first chance will come off the jump or off the bench. Coach Mark Schmidt hasn’t given any indication on who will start, but Adams says it doesn’t matter.
“If I come off the bench, I guess that’s just my role,” he said. “I’m going to give the same effort whether I start or not. “
That’s just Adams’s work ethic; he’s constantly in the gym working to improve himself. On Friday nights you can find him in the Reilly Center, getting shots up and working on his dribbling with some of the other Bonnies.
“I think that shows who I am as a person and a player,” Adams said. “I try to stay out of trouble and take basketball seriously. I try to work on my weaknesses and stay in the gym as much as possible because if I’m not in there, someone else is in there getting better.”
A broken ankle sidelined him for most of the summer, but he was still able to get better by doing form-shooting exercises on one foot.
“I’m not the best shooter in the world, but when it comes down to it I can shoot. I really work hard and spend a lot of time on it,” he said.
Improving in the gym when no one’s watching is very important, but it’s only part of the battle. The mental aspect of the game is also vital, and being a student of the game by watching tape is key. Adams cites LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose as some of his NBA influences, and he tries to closely observe what makes them such All-Star players.
His goal is to someday play in the NBA like his idols, but Adams understands that he has to succeed in college first in order for that to happen. An Atlantic 10 title is the main goal, and he thinks this year’s Bona squad has the potential to make it happen.
“We have a really good chance of winning this year,” he said. “We have a lot of talent, and I feel like we have some of the tools we didn’t have last year. Hopefully I can do the things I need to do to help us get there. I want to shock the world and help put Bonaventure on the map.”
Many writers have noted that the Bonnies lost 48 percent of their scoring output with the graduation of Charlon Kloof, Marquise Simmons and Matthew Wright. Adams hopes to take what he learned from each player to help replace the lost production.
“From Charlon, I learned that you always have to work hard and treat every practice and game like it’s your last,” said Adams. “From Matt, I learned how to outsmart people. It doesn’t matter how athletic or quick a person is; if you play smart, you might get a chance to outshine them.
“From (Marquise), I learned the same sort of thing as (I learned from) Matt. He wasn’t the most athletic player but he was successful because he worked hard and took everything seriously.”
The Bonnies definitely take practice seriously, and Adams said there are no friends when they practice against each other.
“We all go at it hard. We all play tough and we’re all leaders. When it’s time to take the last shot or get that starting spot, we’re all working like there’s no tomorrow,” he said.
That mentality didn’t develop overnight. Adams’ hometown of Saginaw is a rough neighborhood, the third most violent city per capita in the United States according to MLive.com. Making it out and becoming a college athlete is definitely something Adams takes pride in.
“Basketball is not just a game; it’s a big part of life.” said Adams. “It can get you out of bad places and help you in life by making you into a man. At home I’m like a father figure to my siblings, so I realize I have to take this seriously; I’m not playing around out there. I used to be childish, but I’ve grown up and become mature. Basketball actually taught me a lot.”
He may be overlooked by some of the national media this preseason, but make no mistake: the high-flying guard from the Motor City is ready to be a dynamite playmaker in the A-10 this season.