Calipari told anyone who wanted to listen that Adebayo could shoot the ball better than he had been able to show at Kentucky and had other skills that would translate well to the NBA.
Calipari was right. Miami picked him with the 14th pick — Adebayo was hoping to go to Charlotte at No. 11 where teammate Malik Monk went to be closer to home and his mother, Marilyn Blount — and in his third season with the Heat he has blossomed into a rising star.
He made the NBA All-Star Game this year and won the Skills Challenge which features an obstacle course that tests shooting, passing and ballhandling. However, that success did not change him and his successful play in the playoffs did not either.
“Bam is so genuine, so authentic, he’s real,” Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He has a great competitive humility about him. He is a totally different personality in between the lines. He’s as fierce and nasty as anyone in this league, and you get him outside those lines, he’s been raised the right way.
“His mother (Marilyn Blount) had a big deal to do with that. She raised a fine young gentleman, one of the best competitors on this planet. And he just continues to get better because he works at it, and he doesn’t get comfortable thinking that he doesn’t need to work to get to a higher level.”
The Miami coach says Adebayo was the player his team wanted to draft in 2017 and was hoping he would still be available.
“He always talks about guys that he’s played with previously in AAU basketball. Bam Adebayo is the anti-AAU player. I’ve got to look up those records. I don’t think he played AAU because he’s wired differently, which we like,” Spoelstra said.
Former Tennessee standout Grant Williams, who now plays for the Boston Celtics, has know Adebayo his whole life and knows how talented he is.
“He does a good job of playing with the guys around him. He’s surrounded by a bunch of shooters, so when you get so focused on them, next thing you know, it opens up slips or fake handoffs for him,” Williams said.
Williams said it’s hard to explain just how much Adebayo has improved from high school until now.
“Back when we were younger he was somebody you could predict where he’s going, maybe take a charge or be in position. As a guy as strong as myself I was able to be physically not be pushed around as much,” Williams said.
“But now you kind of have to guard a lot of different things. His hook shot from his right hand. He’s explosive going both ways. He’s able to not only physically muster his way through, but also athletically he moves I think a little bit better than he used to. He’s kind of got his body in shape.”
Kentucky fans did not always like Williams and often got frustrated with the way he took charges and also seemed to get fouled so often. However, he gets along well with Adebayo.
“We always tease each other, or I tease him more so, because I’m always like, ‘Oh, what’s the record in our career?’ But then next thing you know, he’s done a good job of getting that thing either back to even — I don’t know what it is now — but it’s definitely an experience that it’s cool to be able to be in this position with him, playing against him,” Williams said.
Boston coach Brad Stevens appreciates the dilemma Adebayo causes for opposing defenses now. He said not to underestimate how good Adebayo is at faking handoffs to teammates to create shot openings.
“Bam does so many good things because he catches it at the elbows or where he wants with a live dribble. It’s really hard to switch when the guy still has a live dribble because he can quickly spin and get out of it, and Bam has got a great feel for that,” Stevens said.
Calipari never misses a chance to tout his players and the NBA playoffs turned into a showcase for former UK players coached by Calipari. However, he even outdid himself a bit with his praise for Adebayo on ESPN.
“I see Bam creating a new position in the NBA: a ‘point-center,’” Calipari said. “That means you do everything. He guards five positions. He has a huge impact on games.”
Adebayo understands how his role has expanded and what comes with that.
“People say I am the heart and soul of this team and when you have that type of responsibility you have to back it up,” Adebayo told NBA.com’s Rebecca Harlow. “The beautiful thing about us is we don’t care about feeding the hot hand. We don’t care who gets the glory.”
That’s what makes Adebayo so endearing to teammates and coaches.
“I love Bam Adebayo and everything he stands for as a competitor. That’s why I think he’s developing into one of the great winners in this league,” Spoelstra said. “That’s much different than saying you’re just one of the best players in this league. He is one of the best players, but he’s going to become one of the best winners in this league, because it matters to him. He’s willing to take responsibility.”