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Jalen Adams Leaves Complicated Legacy at UConn

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The guard went through the highs and lows with the program, so how will he be remembered?

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball’s season came to an inglorious end at the hands of Houston in the AAC Tournament as the Huskies were thrashed, 84-45. It was also the final game in the tumultuous career of senior guard Jalen Adams.

When Adams arrived at UConn, expectations were sky-high. Some of that was because Adams was a very highly-touted prospect coming out of Roxbury, Massachusetts — the same hometown of Shabazz Napier.

But it also had to do with when Adams came here. The Huskies were in the midst of the greatest stretch of guards in program history, beginning with AJ Price, then going to Kemba Walker, who handed off to Napier before ending with Ryan Boatright. Four players, six combined trips to the Final Four, and four national championships between them.

Adams lacked two key pieces the other four players had, though. First, each player learned from the previous. Kemba learned from Price. Shabazz learned from Kemba. Boatright learned from Shabazz. Adams came in the year after Boatright graduated, two years removed from Napier. Instead, Adams learned from Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis. Both were solid players, but not program legends.

Those other greats became greats because of a great cast of talent around them. Adams never did. The best team he was on was during his freshmen season, when the Huskies had the likes of Shonn Miller, Daniel Hamilton, Amida Brimah, Gibbs and Purvis.

And that team wouldn’t have made the tournament without the emergence of Adams down the stretch and in the AAC Tournament. They would’ve been sweating it out on Selection Sunday if the freshmen didn’t hit a 75-foot buzzer-beater.

In that postseason, Adams emerged as a go-to player that could be counted on in the clutch. The buzzer-beater wasn’t even the first big shot Adams hit in that game against Cincinnati. In the overtime prior, he hit a tough layup with 5.5 seconds left to tie the game and send it to the third overtime.

Ultimately, UConn won the AAC Tournament without much trouble after the first game, beat Colorado in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament before bowing out to No. 1 overall seed Kansas. As a freshman, Adams showed a glimpse of what he could do with talent around him.

Then all the talent disappeared.

In Adams sophomore year, he took over the lead scoring role. After some growing pains, especially in Maui, Adams became the Huskies’ best player. The problem was it often had to be a one-man show. Injuries decimated that team, knocking Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier out for the season.

Adams had to do it all, even through injury. Never was that more evident when he missed a game against Houston and UConn only scraped up 12 points in the first half.

There were also signs things weren’t well in the program off the court either. After the season, three players left the program. Two ended up at Power-5 schools. Adams stayed and stuck through it.

His loyalty was rewarded with an even worse team in 2017-18, which led to the firing of head coach Kevin Ollie. Even with new head coach Dan Hurley coming in and plenty of professional opportunities available, whether it be in the US or abroad, Adams once again stayed with the program.

As a senior, Adams had the high of beating Syracuse at MSG to earn Hurley’s first big win at UConn. But it was far from all positive. Hurley suspended the guard from the team’s secret scrimmage against Harvard. Adams would sometimes disappear in big games before a scoring flurry in garbage time padded his stats.

Then in February, a Temple player ran into his knee and sprained his MCL. Adams could’ve thrown in the towel and decided to take his recovery slow so he could be fully healthy for pre-NBA Draft workouts. He could’ve given up on the coach he didn’t commit to and decided he had done enough for a program that hadn’t given much back to him.

Instead Adams aggressively rehabbed in hopes he could return for the AAC Tournament. He told Hurley he wanted to put on the uniform one more time. Adams did get that chance, suiting up in the regular season finale against ECU before playing in the two conference tournament games.

But to only focus on the positive would be a misrepresentation of Adams’ career. There was plenty of rough spots along the way too. Adams wasn’t a bad kid but he struggled with maturity issues, which weren’t helped with the long leash Ollie seemed to give him. Prior to the season opener of his junior year, Adams was issued a court summons after racing scooters around campus, crashing one, and then leaving the scooter at the crash.

There was also the suspension by Hurley, supposedly related to academics. They were all small things that should’ve led to someone telling Adams to grow up, which didn’t appear to happen until Hurley arrived.

With his four years as a Husky now in the books, Adams leaves an enigmatic legacy. He was a good player that couldn’t quite breakthrough to become a great player, but still finished as the No. 10 all-time leading scorer in program history. But he was also the face of UConn teams that plunged to the lowest points in the Huskies’ modern history.

At times, he was immature, frustrating and hard-headed. But others, he was exciting, charismatic and brilliant. Adams bridged multiple eras — the final peak of the Kevin Ollie Era, its collapse and now the Dan Hurley Era. He was there for the highs — his 75-foot buzzer-beater, winning the AAC Tournament — and lows — the worst season in program history where the team quit on Ollie.

Perhaps then it’s fitting that Adams will be revered by some as the player who stuck it out at UConn despite many others leaving not having enough talent around him while others will vilify him as the face of the Huskies’ fall from grace. That’s a microcosm of his career at UConn: Some good, some bad, a lot of in-between.