HOUSTON — Jordan Adams still hears the question from time to time, just as he did so often before: Why come to UCLA when more touted freshmen such as Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson might hog the spotlight, the ball, playing time? Why not go elsewhere?
His answer: a laugh.
Not one to brag, what could he really say? So he lets his actions speak for him.
Though overshadowed in a UCLA 2012 recruiting class that was considered the best in the nation — he was the only one among the four signees who was not a McDonald’s All-America choice — Adams has been the Bruins’ most productive player. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard is averaging a team-high 17.8 points per game as UCLA (5-3) heads into Saturday’s game against Texas (5-3) at Reliant Stadium.
Adams, Anderson, Muhammad and fellow freshman Tony Parker have known each other for years, dating back to their time on the club-team circuit.
Anderson isn’t surprised by Adams’ production. “He proved me right all along,” Anderson said.
Adams started quickly, debuting with 21 points in UCLA’s opener against Indiana State. He followed that up with 26 points in an overtime win over UC Irvine, then had 20 points or more in UCLA’s next two games, versus James Madison and Georgetown.
By then, Adams had made UCLA history, accomplishing something that escaped even such players as Reggie Miller, Baron Davis, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook: He became the first Bruins freshman to score 20 or more points in his first four games. (Freshmen didn’t play for the varsity until the 1972-73 season.)
Adams also approached another UCLA record, making 33 consecutive free throws before missing three against San Diego State. The school record is 43, by Darren Collison.
Adams, an Atlanta native, learned proper shooting technique from his father, John: Knees bent. Shooting elbow tucked in. Focus on the front of the rim. Follow through.
They spent summers in a church gym, where Adams shot 500 to 800 times a day.
Even today, if there’s something off with Jordan’s shooting release, John will tell him. “He knows me better than I know myself,” Adams said.
John also knows his son has flown under the radar for much of his basketball career. “He’s always been underestimated: ‘He’s too slow, he’s not athletic, he’s not this, not that,’” John Adams said. “But all the so-called athletic kids who can jump out of the gym can’t guard him.”
Said Anderson of Adams: “He’s definitely crafty.”
Said Muhammad: “He definitely catches you off guard.”
What Adams lacks in athleticism, he makes up in basketball IQ. “I’m amazed how good he is going to the basket, off the dribble,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. “He’s really an effective offensive player.”
Adams came to UCLA from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, where he became only the ninth player in that prominent basketball program’s history to score 1,000 career points. Oak Hill had a record of 44-0 when Adams was a senior.
UCLA assistant coach Korey McCray, who coached Adams with the Atlanta Celtics AAU team, said Adams always seemed to rise to the competition. “He just gets it done,” McCray said.
It wasn’t long after McCray left the Celtics to come to UCLA that Adams accepted a scholarship offer from the Bruins. He was the first of the four recruits to commit.
But when Muhammad, Anderson and Parker also committed to UCLA, people asked Adams if he still wanted to go there.
McCray didn’t sugarcoat Adams’ situation. “The bottom line was, he was going to have to work for everything he got,” the coach said.
Yet Adams never wavered, in part because the four recruits had a plan. “We can all come here and try to start something new,” Adams said.
Since he arrived at UCLA, Adams has been a starter and also come off the bench. He said he doesn’t have a preference; it only matters that the Bruins win.
“Jordan is very unselfish,” Howland said. “He’s 100% a team guy.”
He’s also humble and quiet. But competition burns deep within.
His father said that’s the way Adams operates: “He’s always been like, ‘OK, I don’t have to talk or get all the credit. I’ll just show you on the court.’”