'This is no accident' - Steven Adams' mentor

Steve Adams with his mentor Kenny McFadden in 2013.
Steve Adams with his mentor Kenny McFadden in 2013.

The man who moulded Steve Adams into a $35 million a year sporting superstar says it was no accident.

Expatriate American Kenny McFadden is bemused by some of the reaction to his protégé's four-year $140m deal announced with the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday and which catapulted Adams to the status of New Zealand's highest paid sports star in our history.

The Wellington-based coach who moved here as a player decades ago and was handed Adams as a gangly and troublesome 14-year-old with ambition but no discipline told Martin Devlin on Radio Sport that some people seemed to think the young Kiwi had won a lottery jackpot by pure luck.

"I'm not surprised. This is no accident. It's something that he's worked towards," McFadden told Devlin. "A lot of people don't understand. He didn't hit the lottery. It's not like he brought a lottery ticket and you won all this money.

"This was something that was projected. Over a period of time, you knew if you took care of business, you will be rewarded.

"At the end of the day you have to go out there and play for, not one year, not two years. He's been doing it for three and half years. This is his fourth year. So the team understands what he brings to the team - and he brings a lot. He brings a lot of leadership, he brings a lot of toughness and he's getting better each game."


Listen: Kenny McFadden talks to Martin Devlin

McFadden reiterated how hard Adams had worked in the years before he came onto the public and media's radars.

"His older brother who I played with brought him down (from Rotorua to Wellington) because he wasn't doing the right things in terms of going to school. His focus wasn't tunnel vision like it is now but he wanted to play basketball, he wanted to go over to the States, he wanted to make it to the NBA," McFadden explained.

"So we sat down and wrote out a plan, we worked on what needed to be done on a day-to-day basis, and he worked for four and a half years to achieve those goals, got a scholarship and the rest is history.

"You can only make it based on what you do in the day-to-day grind. He had the physical presence. He was a pretty big kid at age 14. He came from a pretty big family so you knew the genetics were going to be there. But beyond that nothing was guaranteed. You have to have ticker which is the heart, and he had that as well. He also had determination.

"He needed that because it's not an easy road. It's not easy in terms of making that commitment. Because not only do you have to play the sport, you had to do whatever is necessary in the classroom and that didn't come easy for him. That was something he had to work on on a regular basis at Scots College.

"And they did a great job in terms of getting him tutors and all the support he needed. But that was something he had to want to do to be successful because you have to take the test yourself. That's not something someone else can do for you. He done that grind which was the hardest thing for him to do."\

McFadden said Adams' hunger as a teenager would drive him to hound the coach into ensuring he trained hard.

"I would give him a call about 5.15 in the morning," he recalled of the opening days of their association. "We would start training at six o'clock every morning before school and he never missed a day for four and half years.

"But that was something he wanted to do because he would text me the night before to ensure that I would give him a call in the morning to wake him up.
Because it was something he wanted to do, we would do it. But it was an extremely difficult process at first.

"But once you get into a lifestyle of wanting to do it, learning how to do it and getting rewards from doing it, and as we went over to the States and started playing different tournaments there, and he started seeing success, it became easier for him and he knew it was achievable."

McFadden reiterated that the mega-contract will not change Adams.

"You don't do it for the money. You actually do it because you love the game and in the end the game gives you that money."

"I don't think he will reflect on where he is financially, until probably when he retires. When he gets the chance to look back on his career, he will probably say he had a good run.

"But right now he's the same. He is focussed on what needs to be done do day-to-day. He's got good teachers around him. He is just growing as a player. He's very intelligent. He's one of those people who loves asking questions. He always learning how to learn."

McFadden agreed Adams' trailblazing end to last season when the Thunder went within one game of making the NBA final had helped secure his huge new contract.

"When you've got to go against guys like the Clippers and they've got Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan, two great All-Stars, high calibre players on max deals, and you outplay them.....and then you turn around and you have to go up Tim Duncan and you outplay him, and you end up beating the San Antonio Spurs with 67 wins...and then you go all the way and knocking on the door of beating the 73-win team in Golden State Warriors, and playing outstanding and getting double doubles...and getting in the groin and not reacting, having the maturity to continue to go out and play hard, you have to reward a guy like that."

Adams' success has boosted the spotlight on McFadden and his burgeoning player academy in the capital - but he remains modest about his own role.

"I've sent over 68 players over the last eight years on scholarships in the United States. I work with about 50 kids every morning," he said.

"We've got plenty of kids who are going down the same footpath. And we've got plenty of kids who will get scholarships to the States. Not all of them will get a chance to make it to the NBA but we do have other ones that will get drafted - there's no doubt about it. We've got some great players coming through the programme that people don't know anything about."

"This is what you do. I had the same opportunities. I grew up with a guy by the name of Magic Johnson. I lived about three blocks from him. And I watched him rise through the ranks and make it all the way to the NBA. I never had an opportunity. I missed out but I got a chance to come down here and play in New Zealand and further my ambitions down here. And I'm lucky enough to have this facility here in Wellington where we have 12 courts and it's open every morning.

"So at the end of the day, I'm a coach and I've been given this opportunity. And at the end of the day the most gratifying thing you can do, if you can't do it, is to see somebody else achieve those goals."

- NZ Herald

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