5-foot-9 PG Luke Adams plays for Texas Tech despite being born deaf

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BROOKLYN — Every walk-on for every team in the country has a story.

They aren’t supposed to be playing high-major basketball. They are, essentially, paying for the right to go through insane preseason workouts and to get whipped up on in practice on a daily basis just to be a glorified cheerleader at the end of the bench. They are fan favorites that get a court side seat and a shot at glory during the end of a blow out wins in exchange for the student loans.

Texas Tech’s Luke Adams is one of those kids. He’s listed at 5-foot-9 but probably stands closer to 5-foot-7 on a good day, his build more reminiscent of a computer programmer than a Big 12 athlete. Yet Adams has managed to carve out a role for himself with the Red Raiders. He averaged 19.4 minutes as a freshman, but as Tech has gotten better, he’s seen some of those minutes cut. This season, he’s played 20 minutes in seven games.

But that’s still impressive coming from Adams.

Because what I haven’t told you about him yet is that he was born deaf.

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Luke Adams’ defining characteristic as a player isn’t his height and it’s not his hearing impairment.

According to head coach Tubby Smith, it’s his passion, his work ethic. He cares about basketball, he cares about Texas Tech, and he cares about his future in basketball. That’s not something that can be taught.

“Seeing how tough he is. He’s a very committed young man to deal with what he has to deal with with his hearing impairment,” Smith, who took the Tech job this spring, told NBCSports.com when asked what has impressed him the most about Adams.

There’s a reason that Adams has such resolve. Adams’ parents didn’t learn he was deaf until he was two years old. His parents were told by doctors as a child that he would never be able to read or write past the second grade level. They were told to enroll him in a deaf school, to teach him sign language and to prepare for a life with a child that would not be able to hear or speak normally.

Well, Adams’ parents decided they weren’t going to accept that. (Adams’ father is the Director of Basketball Operations for the Texas Tech basketball program, but he’s declined every interview request regarding his son since he took the position.)

“They said no, we’re going to try to teach him and do our best to give him [a regular life] and make the most of the opportunity,” Adams said. They got him a speech therapist and sent him to a regular school. He got a hearing aid for his left ear and, when he was 11, he received a cochlear implant in his right ear.

source:  It was tough to deal with being the deaf kid, although Adams got through it despite being held back in first and second grade. All of the work paid off, as Adams doesn’t have a noticeable speech impediment today.

When you can make it through all of that as a kid, battling for a roster spot as a 5-foot-nothin’ walk-on with Bama Bangs and a head band that holds hearing aids in place doesn’t seem all that daunting.

And to Adams’ credit, he makes an effort to give back. He’ll visit deaf schools and talk to kids that are currently going through what he’s been through. He’s walking, talking, hearing proof that being deaf is not a deterrent to following your dreams if you don’t allow it to be. Don’t believe me? Adams is now on scholarship at Texas Tech.

“A lot of people ask me to go out there and speak,” Adams said. “Anything that I can do to give back. When you’re growing up, all you want is hope, so anything I can do for those kids, I’m willing to do. I spoke to these fifth graders, and the first thing I said was ‘Don’t take no for an answer.'”

Adams may have the kind of stubborn, dogged work ethic that will allow him to accomplish just about anything that he wants out of life, but he’s also smart enough to be a realist. He could spend every waking hour for the next two years of his life in the gym, but he’ll never be an NBA player. There are certain physical limitations that an NBA prospect cannot overcome. Scouts wouldn’t give a second thought to his hearing aids if he was a foot taller.

So Adams has dedicated his life to pursuing another goal: becoming a Division I basketball coach. That’s part of the reason that he decided to go to Texas Tech. He could have gone the JuCo route and, as the leading scorer in Texas 3A high school basketball as a senior, there were assuredly programs at lower levels — North Texas and UT-Arlington, among others, according to Adams — that had offered him a scholarship.

But he wanted to learn from the best. He wanted to build a network at the highest level of the sport. And while Texas Tech basketball is, quite frankly, only Texas Tech basketball, it’s important to remember that he’s played for three different coaches in his three seasons in Lubbock. Two — Smith and Billy Gillispie — are former head coaches at Kentucky. One — Chris Walker — played at Villanova and was previously an assistant with Jay Wright.

Adams has done everything he can to absorb every bit of information available from each coach.

“He knows the game extremely well, he’s a coach on the bench,” Smith said. “He’s always asking questions, always in my ear on the sideline, ‘Coach, why are we running this? What do you think of this? What do you think of that?'”

Ironically enough, being deaf has helped Adams in that regard. It’s natural, he says, for people with hearing problems to be more observant of their surroundings, to rely more on visual cues than people that have never had to live without the ability to hear. This summer, he traveled to the Deaflympics in Bulgaria with Team USA, an event where he had to play deaf. He couldn’t use hearing aids or implants.

“Being able to play hearing and then play without hearing ability makes me appreciate being able to hear and communicate,” Adams said. “You have to use your eyes a lot more than your ears on the court. I think it worked to my advantage because I kind of see more.”

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Adams gets heckled quite often on the road.

There are fans that make fun of his Justin Bieber haircut and students that get on him about his headband. On Monday night, when he took the court for Tech in a loss to Pitt, the Panther fans in attendance started chanting ‘Rudy’ at him, a reference to the walk-on football player at Notre Dame immortalized in the movie named after him.

It’s not uncommon.

But Adams doesn’t have a problem with it.

Because, after all, he can hear the taunts.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.