Not bad for a 21-year-old kid who should be in the middle of his senior season at Oklahoma. Not bad for a stringbean who is the lightest center in the league, and one of the shortest. Adams has a soft, arcing jump shot that is accurate from as far out as the corners or the top of the key and has helped him average 19.1 points a game. He cannot muscle anybody around under the basket, but the Suns have burly Forwards Curtis Perry and Garfield Heard to help him rebound. Adams plays defense adequately, although he needs to become more aggressive without fouling. He is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving. What he really is, is a good NBA forward playing out of position.
Adams' forte is passing, a skill he mastered by the 10th grade in high school in Putnam City, a suburb of Oklahoma City, where Suns Coach John McLeod first saw him while he was coaching at the University of Oklahoma. Too often in the NBA when the basketball is passed to the center, his teammates never see it again until it either goes through the hoop or comes bouncing back to them off the rim. When it goes to Adams, who is usually stationed at the high post, the ball reappears more often than not; he is fourth in the NBA in assists with an average of 6.0 a game. The next-best center is Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets, with 5.5.
"He's the best passing center since Johnny Kerr," says Suns Assistant Coach Al Bianchi, who has been in pro ball for 20 seasons. "He's the most popular guy on the team because he'll give it up. They love him."
Adams is especially adept at whipping the ball to teammate Paul Westphal under the hoop. Westphal was down in the dumps when Boston sent him to Phoenix last summer in return for Charlie Scott. But he cheered up considerably the first time he played with Adams in the Los Angeles pro summer league.
"I knew from that first game that he was good," says Westphal. "Just by the way he handled himself, how he protected the ball, how he moved so smoothly."
"Alvan surprised people his first time around," says Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo. "He's by far the best pick we've ever made. No question about it. He has great hands, a great pair of hands. He's an offensive threat passing the ball. It's nice to try to project what he'll be two or three years from now, with experience."
Adams is a very confident, poised young man, yet he never expected instant success in the pros. Perhaps one reason was that the University of Oklahoma has not exactly been a fertile garden for basketball players—Clifford Ray of Golden State, Heard and Adams are the only Sooners in pro ball today. Adams is without doubt the finest player in Oklahoma's history, having been named Big Eight Player of the Year as a freshman, sophomore and junior and MVP of the Big Eight Tournament the same three years. And he has been just as successful off the court. He made Eagle Scout in the eighth grade, was an honor student in high school and had a 3.8 grade average out of a possible 4.0 in pre-med at Oklahoma. He was a three-year starter on the Putnam City basketball team—leading it to a 67-11 record and the Class 4A state championship his senior year.
UCLA, Maryland, Vanderbilt and Kansas were among the colleges lined up at his door, but he stayed close to home, mainly because of his fondness for McLeod, who moved on to coach Phoenix after Adams' freshman year.
Following his sophomore year Adams applied for NBA "hardship" status (which merely means that he signed a statement that he had no job; his father Paul is a fairly prosperous petroleum geologist) but later withdrew his name. After his junior year he applied again and let it stick, it being all but a certainty that he would go to Phoenix and to his old coach, McLeod, as the No. 4 pick in the league after David Thompson, David Meyers and Marvin Webster. Which is what happened.
"Governor David Hall and the president of OU tried to talk me into staying," Adams says. "Hall was a Rhodes-scholar and played up that angle, but I didn't want that and I didn't plan to be single, which you have to be to get a Rhodes. There was no hate mail and at the end the coach said, 'O.K., we wish you the best.' "