BY LARRY VAUGHT
Remember not long ago when some wondered if Bam Adebayo had made the right choice by leaving Kentucky after his freshman season to enter the NBA draft.
Even as the draft approached, some mock drafts had him in the second round. Sure, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he could be a lottery pick, but the so-called draft experts were not saying that.
Or were they?
Weeks before the draft, I talked to Brian Clifford, Adebayo’s high school coach at High Point Christian Academy.
“I have spoken to quite a few (NBA) teams as they gather information. A lot of teams out there really like him,” Clifford said confidently then. “I will take their word over draft gurus any day. I know he is looking forward to playing at that next level and believes he can play well.”
Clifford knew one big question about Adebayo going into the draft was his outside shooting. Could he hit a 3-point shot — or at least a 15-foot shot — that he would have to make in the NBA?
Again, that did not worry Clifford who turned out to be exactly right.
“He’ll have a chance to show the other side of things in the NBA. Bam is a different kind of guy. Last year his job was to help Kentucky win basketball games. Now his job will be to be a professional basketball player,” Clifford said in early May.
He’ll do that for Miami after the Heat made him the final pick in the lottery with the 14th choice in last week’s draft. One reason Heat president Pat Riley, a former UK All-American, said Miami liked Adebayo was because he made 30 of 50 3-pointers in a workout and had a “great release” on his shot.
Riley also said Adebayo was “off the charts” from an athletic standpoint.
“Shot-blocker, Explosive, a lob threat, jumper, a leaper, runs rim to rim, can guard 1 through 5. We felt the need to get an athletic big,” Riley said. “From a defensive standpoint, that’s where the emphasis came at that time. There were other bigs that were available that had specific skills, but there were other things we didn’t like about them. I think he’ll be a perfect fit for us. But… he’s 19 years hold…. We are really excited about it, to be able to get him.”
Everybody should be happy for Adebayo. He had made no secret for several years that his motivation was his mother, who became a UK fan favorite with her passion and smile for Bam and his teammates. His goal was to make the NBA so he could take care of her financially — and now he can do that.
“When we sat and talked to Bam for an hour, you get blown away by his story, his background, his motivation,” Riley said after the draft. “When we talked to him, he had a level of maturity about him, a quietness about him that we really liked.
Clifford said the same thing for over two years. When Adebayo signed with Kentucky, he said motivating him to play hard and improve would be no problem because of his relationship with his mother. He also said that winning was all that mattered to Adebayo.
That’s why when UK needed him to provide in inside presence last season, he did. Karl-Anthony Towns did the same thing. So did Anthony Davis. Once Towns and Davis got to the NBA, they showcased more skills than most knew they had.
“His dream has been to be a professional player and he did enough last season at Kentucky to put himself in position to do that now,” Clifford said.
And in a better position than most thought he would be after proving that mock drafts mean little on draft night.