Adams like a guard in post player's body
Everybody seems to say the same thing about Texas A&M's Danielle Adams. She's "Barkley-esque." Meaning that she's well, not small. But she is very skilled.
However much Adams' physique and game might remind folks of Charles Barkley, though, her personality -- at least what she has displayed of it thus far -- will not. Consider how Aggies coach Gary Blair describes Adams, who just had a triple-double (27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 blocked shots) in a 69-54 victory against Texas Tech on Saturday and was named Big 12 Player of the Week.
"This is the most low-maintenance star I think I've ever coached," Blair said. "She is just down-to-earth, very easygoing, very team-oriented.
"She's learning to say more and be more comfortable with fans and with the press. You know, she didn't get a lot of attention like that in junior college."
If Adams has a free-spirited, outspoken, wisecracking side to her, she's concealing it for now. But what has always been evident about her is her hoops ability. Adams, who is from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, Mo., stood out in high school because she was so talented offensively. She signed with Missouri, but things did not work out academically.
So she went to Jefferson College in suburban St. Louis on the other side of the Show-Me State. She became a two-time juco All-American and was the 2009 juco player of the year. When it was time to move to Division I again, she reopened recruiting and ultimately decided between Texas A&M and 2009 national runner-up Louisville.
Adams, at 6-1, is strong enough that she can play center for the Aggies. If Blair needed her at either forward position, she could readily do that, too.
"Texas A&M wanted me to come in and play immediately," Adams said of the Aggies making up for losing three starters from last season's Sweet 16 team. "I was able to help right away. Plus, playing with Tanisha and Tyra is great."
Indeed, "T 'n' T" was another selling point for A&M: The Aggies already had two Kansas City-area players in Tanisha Smith and Tyra White. Adams knew both of them well; she'd been on an AAU team with Smith.
Interestingly, though, the fact that this KC trio -- which leads the Aggies in scoring -- ended up in College Station actually was not a grand plan on their part or Texas A&M's. It somewhat randomly worked out that way, though a connecting thread was A&M assistant coach Johnnie Harris.
"I've known Coach Harris since I was in middle school," Adams said. "I really trusted her about how it would be good for me to come to Texas A&M."
White and Smith also did not originally intend to go to A&M. White had shown interest in Kansas State when she was in high school, then also looked at Kansas. She committed to LSU, but opted not to go there when Pokey Chatman left as coach in 2007. Instead, she went through recruiting again and chose A&M.
Smith started her college career at Arkansas, where Harris previously was an assistant. But Smith wasn't happy there after one season and went to junior college at Fort Smith, Ark., for a year. She came to A&M last season, during which time she averaged 10.6 points and was named the Big 12's newcomer of the year.
That is an award Adams seems very likely to earn again for the Aggies this season. She is averaging 15.9 points and 5.5 rebounds. Smith is at a team-high 16.5 points, and White averages 10.6.
In Adams, Blair got another versatile player named Danielle to replace departing senior Danielle Gant from last season. In some respects, Adams is a larger version of Gant.
"Her individual skills are as good as any player I've had," Blair said of Adams. "Her passing ability is outstanding. How she can see the floor -- against Texas Tech, she stripped the point guard and went coast-to-coast and finished the layup. She's got that sixth sense about where people are on the basketball court.
"And with her defense -- it wasn't just how many shots she blocked [against Texas Tech], it was how many she contested. It was probably in the 20s. She just has that uncanny ability to deflect the ball."
Adams will meet more than a match in the shot-blocking department Wednesday, as the Aggies travel to Baylor and face freshman sensation Brittney Griner.
Baylor, dealing with injuries and youth, has hit a rough patch, having lost two games in a row and three of its last four. Griner was "held" to 14 points and 6 rebounds Saturday in a surprising 70-62 loss at Missouri.
Still, Griner leads the Big 12 in blocked shots (5.9), with Adams fifth (1.8). Griner is also fourth in the league in scoring (18.6) and fourth in rebounding (8.9). And at 6-foot-8, Griner has 7 inches on Adams.
However, Adams has something in her arsenal that Griner doesn't: a 3-point shot. Adams has made 12 of 40 from behind the arc this season.
"Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a guard," Adams said. "So I practiced my outside shot and worked on my handle. As I grew, I knew I wasn't going to be a guard, but I had those additions to my game."
Indeed, Adams stands out for the ease with which she handles the basketball. There has been a trend the past several years of bigger players who handle the ball better, but Adams is so good that she truly does seem like a guard in a post player's body.
And not just any post player's body. Adams is a big kid, always has been. When Blair first saw her, he compared her to former Purdue standout Leslie Johnson, who played for the Boilermakers' 1994 Final Four team. Blair coached Johnson during the summer of '94 in the U.S. Olympic Festival.
"The difference is, Danielle can play inside or outside," Blair said.
Another difference, although he is more discreet about speaking of it, is that Adams already has worked hard at getting into better shape. With the help of a nutritionist and fitness coaches at A&M, Adams has lost more than 30 pounds in the past four months.
"It's similar to what [Oklahoma's] Ashley Paris did last year," Blair said of Adams' trimming her physique. "She couldn't be with us this summer because she had to finish course work in junior college. Then the very first day of conditioning, she pulled a hamstring.
"But she was determined to keep at it. She was on the exercise bicycle. She worked out a deal where she was coming three times a day for conditioning. And the nutritionist -- those people are key right now in athletics. They take a player to the grocery store and teach them how to shop and eat more healthy."
Blair joked that everything that has worked for Adams wasn't working for him. He acknowledged he hasn't been as diligent at following a better diet.
"I'm still not eating good," he said. "While she's lost weight, I've gained it. But she is really getting into basketball shape.
"She is someone who rarely takes a bad shot. But she's still a work in progress, because more and more people who see her will start finding ways to guard her. Just like they're finding ways to guard Brittney Griner."
Blair thinks that having faced Oklahoma's Courtney and Ashley Paris for four seasons helped make all the Big 12 coaches more adept at developing strategies for dealing with big, strong players who could physically overwhelm their opponents.
Adams and Griner are different, but each presents new challenges. Both already have flummoxed their Big 12 foes at times, but they are also seeing the many ways opponents will try to counter them.
Adams said she chose Texas A&M, ultimately, because she felt it would help her become the player she needed to be for competing as a professional.
Blair believes even though she has more to learn, Adams is well on her way toward that eventual goal.
"There's a lot of big kids who play the game in college very effectively, but then they disappear once it comes to the WNBA or Europe," Blair said. "They don't get a chance due to lack of speed or ball skills. This kid will play next-level ball."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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