Hard working Hassan

He's a player who was on ESPN before he was out of high school. NBA stars Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles would go to his high school games and call him from the road. Many would expect Hassan Adams to be the poster boy for the hip-hop generation of me-first athletes. Instead the Wildcat freshman is a throwback to another type of basketball player.

This story originally ran in the January issue of Cat Tracks Magazine. For subscription information call (520) 327-0705.

Several words come to fan's mind when Adams' name is brought up. Explosive, athletic, energetic and flashy come to mind. Ask Lute Olson and he'll describe Adams with another word, "coachable".

"The reason that Hassan Adams is here to begin with is practice," Olson said "He was here and watched us in a practice situation. He saw that our guys played hard and as coaches we pushed them. Hassan came here because he wanted to get better, it is the overriding reason for him coming here."

Adams is a self-professed gym rat and wanted to play at a school where he would be pushed to get better. Coming from the Westchester program in Los Angeles, Adams is used to a structured practice where the coaches got on the players and in turn the players got on each other. Adams was looking for the same environment in college.

"My high school coach, is a great coach," Adams said. "He stayed on me more than any coach I ever had. He stayed on me gradewise, basketballwise, he pushed me to do my best. To give it my all."

Olson is very familiar with the Westchester program and knew that a player who excelled there could excel at Arizona. Olson looks to recruit players who are a good fit and certain high schools have systems and coaches that are similar to Olson's. Olson has recruited players from schools like Mater Dei, Fairfax and Westchester.

"He comes from a program where the coaches push him," Olson said. "The Westchester is a really good program. It's a very demanding program. I've been in to watch their practices and they work hard."

Adams wasn't always the topflight recruit he was when he signed with Arizona. Before the attention and all-star games, Adams wasn't an unknown commodity heading into the summer, but he was a second tier recruit. By the time he left the Nike Camp in Indianapolis his list of schools had changed from Seton Hall and Boston College to Kansas and Arizona.

Adams not only impressed the coaches with his high flying acrobatics, but his defensive intensity and fundamentals. While there is no denying his athleticism, his work ethic helped make him the sought after commodity that he had become.

"I'm in the gym all the time" Adams said at the time. "Every chance I get I go to gym. I go for as long as I can, until it closes. I'm definitely a gym rat."

In the end it was Olson and his demanding style that convinced Adams to become a Wildcat. He could have stayed in LA. and become a local celebrity. Adams was quickly making a name for himself in pro-am leagues and with the younger pro players in town. Adams looked long and hard at UCLA, but as much as an Arizona practice lured him to Tucson, a Bruin practice turned him off.

"I went and watched UCLA a couple of times and I didn't like the practices," Adams said at the time of his commitment. "(Bruin head coach Steve Lavin) didn't stay on them when they weren't doing things. Some of their guys just sat on stationary bikes on the sidelines and he didn't put them through any good drills. He's really laid back and doesn't get on them for messing up.

"I need someone to push me and to teach me like my coach right now and I know coach O will next year."

Not all players like this in a coach. Today's athlete does not take to constructive criticism as well as players once did. Players have left Olson's program because of his coaching style and just recently players on the Wildcat football team complained to the school president about their treatment from head football coach John Mackovic.

" Football is a demanding and competitive game that requires more discipline and sacrifice than any other," Mackovic said. "While I have always espoused coaching and teaching in a positive manner I have not always been able to discipline myself to achieve the model in which I've fashioned.

Mackovic's apology at the time was met with mixed reaction by his players. Many players, especially those who were at the heart of the revolt, felt that it was long overdue. Another faction, mostly younger players who were recruited by Mackovic, felt that he did not cross the line and that he needn't apologize.

Olson would not comment directly on the situation with the football team, but does feel like players today are a lot different than players used to be.

"Kids are more sensitive than they were," said Olson. "It used to be, well I don't think everybody was like Bear Bryant, but there was more discipline. I think there was more discipline at home and I think they expected this discipline on the practice field or on the football field. Where I think today kids are softer today than they used to be. It's more about me, me, me instead of us as a team."

Adams would agree with Olson and knows he has a lot to learn from his new coach.

"A lot of kids playing basketball are stubborn and think they know it all," said Adams. "Coach O, hall of fame coach, he knows the game. You can look at all of the players he's put in the NBA and I want to be one of them. I want to get everything out of them."

Olson has been on Adams since day one. Early in the season Adams was the team's leading score, but Olson was quick to point out that the freshman needed to work on his rebounding.

"He stays on me so much," Adams said about his lack of rebounding. "I dedicated myself to becoming a better rebounder. He stays on be but there is no other way than to just go get the ball."

Adams admits that Olson is on him, but the freshman does not seem to mind, in fact he seems to almost enjoy it.

"I love it," Adams said of Olson's criticisms. "I'm going to get better as a play and a person. I've got at least three more years of this, so basically he's going to stay on me more and more."

Not all players can take the kind of criticism that Olson and his staff dishes out. Olson and his staff try to recruit players who want to grow and want to get better and don't need to be coddled. Even though they only try to bring in players who can handle it, they still have to deal with players in different ways.

"We are going to push them and kids come to the program to get better," Olson said "There are some that are more sensitive to the constructive criticism than others. I'm not sure all of them know it is constructive criticism. It's also the reason we do individual evaluations. The time to worry about it is if we are not on you because then we have given up."

One player who Olson has been on is Rick Anderson. The senior forward gets as much attention from Olson as any player in his tenure. Not many games go by without Anderson getting some heated instruction from Olson on the sideline.

"Yeah, I get it worse than the other guys," Anderson said. It's because I can take it. I'm the only guy who can. I know he's trying to make me a better a better player."

Another player who has excelled under Olson's tutelage, but had to adjust to Olson's style was Channing Frye. When he started at Arizona he had been given the nickname, "ham sandwich" due to his softness. By the end of the Pac-10 season he was one of the league's best post players and a possible lottery pick.

"Every kid is different," Olson said. "If someone is not receptive to constructive criticism, I don't think he's someone who wants to get better. There are some you get in the program who don't respond to that initially. . I look at the reason that Channing made the improvement over the course of the year is that Channing really wants to be a player. He wants us to push him. It doesn't always necessarily mean he likes it, but Channing is aware that it is important to him in terms of his development."

Like Anderson and Frye, Adams takes the criticisms well. He has been an impact player since day one and has been noticeably improving the whole time.

"I take everything in," Adams said. "Constructive criticism, I'll take anything he tells me and take it in as a positive."

Adams' attitude was developed at an early age. His mother Connie instilled discipline and a work ethic in Hassan at a very young age.

"My Mom is my pride," Adams said. "She's stayed on me since I first played basketball. She gave me the confidence to play and keep getting better. She'd take me to the gym whenever I needed to work out."

Before Adams arrived in Tucson he was one of the featured athletes on ESPN's "The Life". Adams' friendship with some of the younger players on the Clippers, most notably Richardson and Miles. Adams would hang out with many of the Clippers and was something of a celebrity at the high school all-star games he played in.

Although he was hanging out with millionaires and players like Amare Stoudemire, who would soon be millionaires, Adams has kept his perspective. His looked to the future in making his decision to select a school. He could have started right away at Cal. He could have gone to UCLA and stayed in the spotlight. Instead, Adams witnessed an Arizona practice and decided to get better and eventually not only make the league, but try to make an impact in it.

"I really like coach O," Adams said. "I like his style, the way he runs practices, everything. Plus, I like how he plays freshmen and that he's a great teacher. It's very important to have a coach to teach me to get better."

Despite the changing attitudes of players, Olson isn't changing his ways. Olson and his staff will just work harder to find the type of players who can not only exist, but thrive with a lot of discipline. Olson and his staff take pride in developing players. It's not just about wins and losses, but also getting the most out of their players.

"It's our job as coaches to make them better players," Olson said. "If we're not pushing them beyond what they think they can do, then we're not doing our job."

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