Adams, one of the good guys

Last month, while the Wildcats were in Los Angeles, I went to Westchester High School to learn more about Hassan Adams for a story I was working on for Cat Tracks Magazine. I had the good fortune of meeting one of his former teachers and after speaking with her I came away with a great impression of the Wildcat junior.

Jo Bernstein was Hassan's English Lit teacher his junior year, his first at Westchester. He had her class for just one semester, but the two made a great impression on each other and today they still talk.

In putting together the story I was so taken by her affection for Adams. I only used a few of her quotes in the piece, but wanted to make sure that all of you go to see another side of the Cats' high flying forward.

I decided that her words would best paint the picture. The following are some unused quotes from my interview Jo Bernstein:

"He's an incredibly sweet young man. He was in my 11th grade American Literature class and I never even knew he was a basketball player. He never had any kind of attitude of superiority or other things that I have seen in some athletes who are very, very talented.

"He did talk a lot, I nailed him for talking, but he never gave me any attitude. He was sometimes a little goofy, but he was very sincere.

"I did not know he was an athlete, certainly not that caliber of athlete until the end of the semester that I had him and went to a playoff game and was stunned. I've had other players who have gone off to play NCAA ball and I thought ‘my gosh, that child never put himself above anybody.' He came into my class with so much respect and so much courtesy and grace.

"Then he just stayed my friend. Between classes he'd be outside my door. He would come to see me two or three times a day, everyday, for the next year and a half, even after he no longer had my class. He would just hang in my doorjamb and I'd tell him "I'd better not hear you are tardy. Just because you made 26 points in last night's game, you better not walk around hear and think you are better than every body. This is a gift and make sure you know it is a gift.' He'd just say "oh, yes Ms. Bernstein, yes Ms. Bernstein.'

"He was nice to my own two kids who I brought to the playoff games. When my son, who was short and would love to play basketball, came to ‘Go To Work With Your Mom Day' Hassan showed up, picked him up at lunch time, got them to open up the gym and played Horse with him.

"My daughter was entering a writing contest and wanted to interview him and this great big, 6-4 thing sat there with my, at the time, nine-year old daughter and treated her like the spot light was on her.

"I think the thing about Hassan that impressed me the most was that he was such a competitor, such a competitor and kept it all quiet and low key and clean. I have a lot of affection for the young man. He's listened to me nag him, he's listened to me keep him in line and I know that is just an extension of how his mother raised him.

"Hassan wants to learn. That is what was clear in my classroom. He will learn anywhere, anyway that he can. He's totally open, that's a gift, to be able to know you have to constantly have to work and improve. He never lets up. Beyond his talent is his drive.

"He's taught me a lot. He's taught me a lot about how to compete with grace, about how to accept defeat. About how to be patient. He's really an exceptional young man.

"Of course I'd like to see him get his degree, but it's hard to say don't go to the NBA. I told him when he went to the University of Arizona you walk on campus and say ‘hi my name is Hassan, I'm a freshman here' no a basketball player. You are a student first.

"He's always calling me. He calls me on mothers day, he calls me on New Years Eve and I always ask him about his classes. He enjoys learning. A tremendous world has opened up to him.

"I'm not sure he got so directed. He had that before he got to Westchester High. As I said there are other athletes at this school who will walk around with such a sense of who they are, but he came into my class humble and stayed that way. The more I would tease him and put him in his place, the more he responded. That's unusual, a lot of kids don't take that from teachers. He took it with a lot of grace.

"I've said to him over and over that the NBA is a small club. There are 500 in that NBA and I don't know how many have great moral character. I'd tell him you need to hold onto your great moral character and see that it gets stronger and stronger."

A full feature appears in the February issue of Cat Tracks Magazine, on sale now. For more info call (520) 327-0705 or e-mail

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