There comes a day when every young man must leave the nest and that time has arrived for basketball phenomenon Steven Adams.

This weekend, the 2.15m (7 feet 1 inch) centre has departed New Zealand for the United States on a journey that could - and many say will - ultimately end with a spot in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Like any parent, adopted or otherwise, Blossom Cameron has mixed feelings about watching her boy walk through the departure gates at Wellington Airport. First stop is Notre Dame Preparatory School in Baltimore, where he'll spend a few months before heading to the University of Pittsburgh.

"He's in a different phase of his life," sighs Cameron. "Now I get to sit at home and worry whether someone else is feeding him properly. He's changed a lot - he's grown up and matured, but he's still Steven."

Cameron became Adams' legal guardian when he was rescued from a potentially destructive lifestyle in Rotorua and brought to the capital to pursue his basketball dream.

While she clothed him, fed him and ensured he improved his grades at Scots College, American-born hoops mentor Kenny McFadden fine-tuned his obvious court talents and pulled the strings that have set him on his path to the big time.

Adams had NBA scouts drooling at the adidas Nations Camp in June, dominating the world's best big men of his age. Many observers claimed he could enter the world's premier league - the third Kiwi to do so - this year if he chose to bypass college.

"Looking back, it's been extremely humbling," says Adams (18), the brother of world shot put champion Valerie Adams. "I've had to move to a new area, make a new home - a substitute home - learn new routines and meet some neat people. This scholarship certainly wouldn't have happened without them."

Apart from her maternal instincts, Cameron has another quality that's proved invaluable as her charge sprouted several centimetres during his stay. She's a competitive body builder and works as a personal trainer.

"Steven decided what he wanted to do and asked me if I could help," she recalls. "I told him I could make it happen for him - it's my job to make world champions. He's not just a project, though. I've worked with quite a few young athletes, but this is the first time I've brought one into my home, so he's lucky. We've had our moments, but it's been very rewarding on several different levels."

As he prepared for a college career, one of Adams' biggest challenges was bringing his school work up to scratch. He's attending Notre Dame to make sure his studies don't slip before the start of the next school year.

"My academics are going well," he says. "I've really surprised myself. I've had to pick up new work habits - I definitely find it easier to learn basketball stuff."

The Crusaders also have one of the most respected high school basketball programmes in the country, having produced several current NBA players. McFadden will help Adams settle in and had originally arranged to have some familiar faces around him at Notre Dame. One by one, the other junior players lined up to make the trip have found full scholarship opportunities elsewhere.

"I'd hoped to have a mate from New Zealand, so I guess I'll have to make some new American friends instead," laments Adams. "I've been working hard on and off the court, and I'm excited about taking my basketball to another level."

As he leaves one stage of his life and enters another, Adams pauses to reflect on where he might be without the help of his support team. If things hadn't panned out, he might have faced a very different future.

"I might've ended up as a farmer," he grins. "My half-brother Moses works as a sharemilker at Ngongotaha. It's fun."

With a little luck and more hard work yet, Adams won't find himself alongside the udder of a cow ever again.