Steven Adams disappointed basketball fans across his home nation in late May when, in a joint decision with the Thunder, he revealed that he wouldn’t compete with the New Zealand national team during the upcoming FIBA World Cup.
But throughout the rest of this summer, he’s done his best to make up for it.
Adams has spent a large portion of his offseason back home, taking part in camps and trying to stir up basketball interest in New Zealand.
After becoming the first New Zealander to ever get selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, Adams had an impressive rookie season, culminating with a few breakout performances in the playoffs. And through it all, his celebrity continued to grow back home.
So it’s no surprise that his appearances at some youth camps earlier this summer led to a spike in participation numbers and drew some local media interest.
“Steven always wants to do something special for Kiwi kids,” New Zealand Basketball Academy spokesman Peter Gosnell recently told Stuff.co.nz, a New Zealand website. “The Thunder are a very community-focused organization and their players run basketball camps around the world.”
Last week, Adams was even invited, along with some of the nation’s better rugby players, to a popular sports academy to speak to a group of New Zealand’s most promising athletes.
“It is really weird, but most of the stuff I have to share with them is not things that I thought up myself,” Adams told The New Zealand Herald of his speech. “It's stuff I picked up along the way from veterans and more experienced players that have given me their time and helped me out. I constantly ask questions of the veterans, so this is all their words really. I'm just the messenger boy."
Some of the athletes Adams spoke with are around the same age or older than him. But his story resonates across the country. He’s a homegrown product who battled through a troubled childhood to make it in one of the world’s most popular sports leagues. His words carry weight.
“Hearing messages from teachers and even coaches, sometimes they're not as powerful as hearing them from your peers or athletes you admire,” Nic Gill, a strength trainer who helped set up the event, told The New Zealand Herald.
The ultimate goal is to drum up more interest around basketball in New Zealand. The hope is to ensure Adams isn’t the exception, but rather the start of a trend of Kiwi players in the NBA.
And the biggest event of the summer comes on Aug. 17. For the second straight year, Adams is running a hoops camp in Wellington, where he attended high school.
Last year, Nets center Brook Lopez was a special guest. This year, Thunder general manager Sam Presti and a few OKC players are rumored to be on the docket. Gosnell, the camp’s spokesman, told Stuff.co.nz that the hope is to have 1,000 attendees and promised “the largest basketball training event ever in New Zealand,” made possible because of the presence of Adams.
“In terms of talent, there's no doubt New Zealand has been under-recruited for players,” Gosnell said. “Steven and (his mentor) Kenny (McFadden) are opening doors for other Kiwi players."