The Hawke's Bay movers and shakers had joined Steven Adams to spread the gospel of basketball yesterday before declaring the NBA star should slip on the Tall Black singlet ... but only when he deems it fit.

"I think he's destined to do it but it's all about timing so when that is right I think he will," said American-born and former power forward Tall Black Willie Burton after the 26-year-old wowed 300 lucky youngsters and teenagers during his Steven Adams Camp at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Napier yesterday.

While it was exciting for the youngsters, it was quite nostalgic for Burton who had watched Adams and son Alonzo Burton, the Taranaki Mountainairs captain, go through the same age-group ranks in the country since they were teenagers.

"I've seen him go through the transition and all so it's pretty exciting to see what he brings back here," said the former Hawks basketballer living in Napier.


Burton had had a short and sweet chin wag with the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) drawcard after a rousing Hastings Intermediate School powhiri on Monday at the Waipatu marae in Hastings where the mayor, Sandra Hazlehurst, and some councillors were among those who welcomed him.

"You know, Steve. He's got a good sense of humour so he just goes with the flow with a bit of humour and a few jokes were sad but it was really good," he said.

Burton, who runs his 10-member Team Basketball Academy for 12 to 13-year-olds at Kirkpatrick Park in the impoverished suburb of Camberley, said Adams was an ideal motivation for youngsters to promote the "anything is possible" attitude to life.

"Steve is different anyway but to have him here for basketball for our youth to see they really need to strive to be the best they can be.

"That's pretty exciting for me so I'm pleased he's here too give something back to the smaller provinces. It'll do wonders for Hawke's Bay basketball so long may it continue."

Burton is longing to be more involved with identifying and grooming budding talent in the Bay at a more professional level if the opportunity arises.

Former Hawks mentor Curtis Wooten confirmed he belonged to the school of thought that wanted to see Adams slip on a singlet for his country someday.

"He started taking more pounding than any other NBA player so he's a huge unit who gets beat up every night and he needs a break," Wooten said. "Until he feels his body is ready he can't."


He said it couldn't get any more exciting than having Adams here, especially for the basketball whanau. The clinic was held with the help of Bay sponsors and in conjunction with the Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust and the Hastings District Council.

"I know there are coaches from all over New Zealand who had contacted Paora [Winitana] to come down here to work [at the camp]," Wooten said of the former Tall Black who runs the Hawke's Bay Paul Henare and Paora Winitana Academy.

"Next time," OKC star Steven Adams tells Tainui Dethierry, 9, of Bridge Pa School, while helping conduct a fun clinic at the PG Arena in Napier. Photo/Warren Buckland

The 59-year-old, who coaches the Hastings Boys' High School teams, has been in the Bay for three decades and hadn't seen anything like it before.

"He's an icon, he's a legend and he's only 25 or 26 years old so he's put New Zealand basketball on the map."

When Wooten had arrived in the province basketball was a fledgling code but it had mushroomed "1000 per cent" today.

Asked if there were any "five-star" talent — which former Adams mentor Kenny McFadden had alluded to in his hunt around New Zealand for prosperous US scholarships and life-changing careers — were in the Bay he felt it was a cyclical occurrence.

"There's always players in different years and it goes on all over the world so right now we have two or three really good players coming through," Wooten said of year 8 pupils he had spotted.

"We all know there's an explosion [of players] in Hawke's Bay so all we need is more gyms," he said, adding the five-star concept, of identifying secondary schools' talent, had just started when he was born in the US.

Former Tall Black Benny Hill echoed similar sentiments to Burton and Wooten because of where he was in his $100 million, four-year contract with the OKC.

However, Hill said Adams was about kids and that sort of investment had immeasurable returns for any country.

"He's amazing at what he does and he's very down to earth and ready to go," said the 40-year who works at Panpac's IT help desk who had helped set up the PG Arena in Taradale for the two camp clinics run in conjunction with the Tuhaka Values programme that offers a mobile school.

Hill said it was "awesome" to have someone of Adams stature and humility in the Bay but it was a pity he couldn't stay a little longer.

"He mixes and mingles with everyone but he's also a very busy man."

Cooper Hill, 7, of Trinity School, son of ex-Tall Black and Hawks forward Benny Hill, is the next cab off the rank for a shot during a the clinic with Steven Adams. Photo/Warren Buckland
Cooper Hill, 7, of Trinity School, son of ex-Tall Black and Hawks forward Benny Hill, is the next cab off the rank for a shot during a the clinic with Steven Adams. Photo/Warren Buckland

Adams heads off to Whangarei next after conducting a similar clinic in Invercargill last week.

OKC vice-president of corporate communications and broadcasting Dan Mahoney, who has been travelling back to New Zealand with Adams for there past five years, said it was beautiful country here.

"All of New Zealand is beautiful but what I like most are the people who are very welcoming and all the people I work with Steven are so warm they are like family to me," said Mahoney.

The 59-year-old said each year he had seen Adams' popularity grow exponentially with basketball here.

In advocating McFadden's five-star talent hunt, Mahoney said it was Adams' ambition to help unearth the next hidden gem in the code in New Zealand.

"It's Steven's goal to continue to develop the passion for the game because you've got to start young to roll with the game and love the game so he wants to give them those opportunities."

Mahoney said the clinics also attempted to mould young minds not to just become suitable teammates and worthy citizens but also spread the gospel of basketball that could offer individual US scholarships and an NBA career.

"You've got people who mentored him and gave him opportunities he'd like to pass on to the kids."

Mahoney said the Kiwi culture already teed up youngsters because of its sense of family values, something he had instantly detected when he first arrived here.

"I think that'll help you no matter what you do, whether it's moving on in life, playing basketball or anything."

Mahoney said deflected any talk on Adams' future with OKC because the administrator had learned a long time ago in his business "not to talk basketball" and leave it to the franchise general manager.

"Steven's a very important part of our organisation and has been," he said. "The Oklahoma City fans love him because he's funny, real, honest and is very talented. He's a very important part of who we are as a team because he also does a lot in parts of our community there in addition to what he does here at his home."

Mahoney said OKC fans respected and admired Adams for his Kiwi pride, something that was reflected in the player bringing his teammates and coaches over the years to partake in his culture.

Zion Ellison, 7, of Hastings Central School, leads a swarm of busy blue bees who could evolve into a five-star talent. Photo/Warren Buckland
Zion Ellison, 7, of Hastings Central School, leads a swarm of busy blue bees who could evolve into a five-star talent. Photo/Warren Buckland