Ron Cook: Sit back, take in Adams' ride at Pitt

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We tend to worry about the sports teams in town. Is the window of Super Bowl opportunity closing on the Steelers? Will the next big hit Sidney Crosby takes be the last? Will A.J. Burnett, at 36, be able to perform the same magic he did last season? Often, we worry so much that we don't enjoy the ride. So it is with the Pitt men's basketball team, the hottest team in the Big East Conference. Instead of focusing on Pitt's seven wins in eight games, we worry: What's going to happen to Steven Adams? Will he leave Pitt for the NBA after just one season?

That's a lot of wasted energy, especially in Adams' case. All the worry in the world isn't going to change what he's going to do. It's not as if Pitt can put a harness on him to slow his development to keep him for a second season. Coach Jamie Dixon wouldn't do that if he could. He wants Adams to be the best player he can be -- right now. He wants him to do a lot of heavy lifting as the team finishes the regular season and heads into the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

It probably will be a good thing for Pitt in a couple of ways if Adams does leave. That likely will mean he lit it up down the stretch and carried Pitt a long way in the NCAA tournament. It also will send a strong message to other potential top recruits. We might not be Kentucky, but if you come to Pitt and you're good enough, we'll get you to the NBA quickly.

Adams, from New Zealand, Pitt's most hyped recruit if for no other reason than he's 7 feet tall, has made dramatic improvement. The evidence is in Pitt's two games against Cincinnati. In the first, Dec. 31 at Petersen Events Center, Adams didn't take a shot or score a point in a 70-61 loss. In the second game, Saturday at Cincinnati, he made 5 of 6 shots, scored 13 points and kept Pitt in the game early in the second half of a 62-52 win.

Adams made 22 of 36 shots in the past six games and averaged 9 points per game. He even made 7 of his past 9 free throws after being an atrocious free-throw shooter all season.

Dixon deserves a lot of credit for helping Adams transition to the American college game. His program is known for his players' improvement. Six of his players won the Big East Most Improved Player Award.

"There are so many things being thrown at him," Dixon said of Adams. "We knew there would be some growing. We're seeing it. He's improving. He's never seen defenses. He's never seen the physicality in a number of games that we've played this year. It's a new world to him. But he's got a great work ethic. He's so unselfish. He wants to get better. He's doing things every day to improve. It's going like we anticipated."

Adams should keep improving. Confidence carries a kid a long way. Adams already has put himself in a position where he will have a choice to make at the end of the season. Stay at Pitt or go to the NBA?

We might think Adams still is raw, but a lot of NBA teams would love the chance to develop him. His kind of size is intoxicating. So is his athleticism. The combination is difficult to find in a player.

A mock draft by Jeff Goodman of CBSsports.com has Adams going as the 20th overall pick. ESPN.com ranks him as the 24th best prospect and breaks down his game:

Pluses -- Long, athletic; NBA body with huge hands; physical; terrific rebounder; excellent hands.

Minuses -- Needs to add experience/polish; looks completely lost on offense; very young for NBA prospect.

That last criticism is true. Adams won't turn 20 until July 28. But lost on offense? Not so much now.

Adams has said he loves Pitt and has given no indication he's thinking of leaving. But that could change. The money could make him change his mind. Shooting guard Evan Fournier of France was the No. 20 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. He signed a two-year, $2,784,000 contract with the Denver Nuggets. Adams could make a lot more if he plays his way higher in the draft. It will take a lot of willpower to say no to that kind of jack.

Of course, Adams almost certainly could make even more if he stays at Pitt for a second season and improves his game. There has been speculation he could be a high lottery pick in the 2014 draft.

Clearly, it would benefit Pitt if Adams stays. But he must do what is in his best interests. It's like Kentucky coach John Calipari always tells his draft-ready young players: "If you want to do what's right for me and my family, stay. If you want to do what's right for you and your family, go." Dixon certainly would offer the same advice to Adams if he believes the kid is ready.

Either way, enjoy the ride for as long as Adams is here. If he stays at Pitt for another season, great. If he leaves after just one season, he'll always be remembered as a great recruiting get for Dixon and a big part of Pitt's basketball history.

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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