UK basketball signee Edrice “Bam” Adebayo recently wrapped up his senior season at High Point Christian Academy in North Carolina, leading the program to an appearance in the state championship game.
Adebayo transferred to High Point Christian from Northside High School near his hometown of Washington, N.C., in part, to play against better competition before heading off to college.
High Point Christian Coach Brandon Clifford spoke to the Herald-Leader over the weekend about Adebayo’s senior season, his personality off the court, and what UK fans can expect from the five-star power forward next season in Lexington.
How did Bam’s first season at High Point Christian go?
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Clifford: “Bam was phenomenal all year. We played a schedule that’s probably in the top 15 in the country, and he averaged right under 20 points a game, and right around 14 or 15 rebounds. He was dominant. And considering the level we played at — every game, everybody we played would double- or triple-team him — and he really worked to get those numbers. We didn’t have a whole lot of pushover games. He was everything he was cracked up to be. Bam’s a great teammate. He’s a very easy kid to coach, because he wants to get better. And, as good as he is, his best basketball is still going to be ahead of him.”
Was it a tough adjustment, moving away from his mother for his senior year of high school?
Clifford: “We’ve made sure that he was able to get back and see his mom on the weekends, when basketball stuff wasn’t going on. I think it was probably harder at first, before the season. But then when the season got rolling — his personality has allowed him to fit right in. He doesn’t have any problem making friends. He’s just one of those guys that everybody loves him, from the teachers to the students. It was just fun to have him around the school, because he’s such an exuberant personality. He kind of comes across on the court like a real quiet kid, but he’s got a great smile and he’s fun to be around. Knows when to keep things light but also knows when it’s time to get busy. Bam’s just a great kid. Kentucky’s getting a phenomenal young man. Obviously, he’s just an absolute monster on the basketball court, but he’s going to be a great addition to that community as well.”
What, specifically, did he improve on from a basketball standpoint over the course of the season?
Clifford: “He’s gotten a lot better with the ball in his hands away from the basket. I made him a promise when he came to High Point Christian that I was going to let him expand his game, as long as he showed that he was capable of doing it. And all fall he really worked on handling the ball in the open court, making open shots, becoming a better passer. Those types of things. He’s a physical specimen, but his skill level improved greatly, too. I think, with the higher level of competition, he was able to do those things against better players. And he was able to see what his bad habits were and stuff like that. So he was able to self-correct some things.
“But he’s making huge strides — even this spring — shooting the basketball. The game is getting further and further away from the rim now, it seems, so even a guy like him has got to be able to make the open shots. And that’s something he’s really worked hard on, especially here lately. His ball skills are improving, and that’s going to help him, because he’s so athletic going downhill that people are going to have to back off of him a little bit. And when he starts knocking down 16-, 18-footers on a routine basis, he’s kind of impossible to guard.”
A lot of UK fans are expecting him to come in and provide an immediate, physical presence in the post — something that was missing from this season’s team. Is he ready to do that right away?
Clifford: “He is a physical freak. I’ll say that. I’ve coached a lot of good players, I’ve coached a lot of big guys that played Division I. This kid, he came to our campus at 235 (pounds). And after two months of weight training, he was up to 260. And it’s all muscle. The kid doesn’t have any fat on his body. And he played the whole season — probably 28, 29 minutes a game — so the other day we had him hop on the scale to see where he was at. And he was 261. He’s a monster. He’s so athletic, and his fast-twitch muscles are so advanced — in the high school game, a guy like that has to be careful, because he’s so much stronger than everybody else. He touches somebody, it looks like he shoots them in the chest with a 12 gauge. But at the college level, he’s really going to be able to be physical. And I’m sure Coach Cal sees that. When he’s using swim moves and stuff to get around box-outs and pursue rebounds in high school, he might pick up a foul. In the college game, that’s what’s expected. So he’s really going to be able to cut loose. And, obviously there’s going to be so much talent around him. You’re going to have to worry about everybody on the floor. He’s just going to be able to be himself. He’s not a ball-hungry guy. He doesn’t have to touch the ball. He just wants to win. He’s going to get the ball, but he’s skilled enough to where you want it in his hands, but at the same time he’s one of those guys that’s going to do whatever it takes to win.
“The best story I have about Bam was probably his worst statistical game of the year. We beat Chaminade with (Duke signee) Jayson Tatum, and Bam had seven points and three rebounds. They had two huge guys swarming around him, we were missing two starters and we ended up beating them. Bam had seven and three, and he was the happiest guy in the locker room. Because we won. That’s him in a nutshell. He’s not going to have a whole lot of ‘seven and three’ the rest of his career. But that’s the epitome of what he is. He wants to win.”
How beneficial will it be for him to go up against UK’s other talented bigs in practice, and how will Bam’s presence benefit those players?
Clifford: “He wants to win. So he’s going to be one of those guys that’s going to push everybody every single day. He is the ultimate competitor. As much as he loves to win, he hates to lose. But, at the same time, he’s not going to come in with a sense of entitlement. He’s excited about the work. He’s excited about getting in there and grinding. And he hasn’t even thought twice about who’s going and who’s staying. He knows who he is, and he’s going to go in there and love his teammates and have fun. At the same time, he’s going to bring it every day. So, if you don’t, you’re going to be in trouble. So I think he’s going to fit in fine. He’s the perfect personality to play at Kentucky, because he wants to be around other good players. He’s not stat hungry. He doesn’t care about that. He wants to win. That’s Bam. And that’s why it’s kind of the perfect fit. Because Coach Cal can take that and use that in that kind of system, and it makes it easier to keep everybody else happy when you have a guy like that who’s not coming in and feeling entitled.”
His last visit to UK — for the final home game against LSU — he was behind the bench cheering and clapping like a regular fan. A lot of recruits don’t do that, act like they’re too cool for that. Is that just his personality?
Clifford: “That’s him, man. That’s him. He’s not fake, that’s the thing. That’s all real. It’s not just putting on a show. The moment that kid told Coach Cal, ‘I’m a Kentucky Wildcat,’ it was as if he grew up in Frankfort or something. He’s all in. He’s excited about it. He’s excited about playing in Rupp. That’s just how he is. He’s not too cool. He’s not too cool for anything. When you know where Bam comes from, it’s easy to see why he’s so humble. But, at the same time, where he comes from is what drives him. So it’s the best of both worlds. You have a good personality with a kid who has had to work for everything. And he happens to be blessed with this freakish athleticism and body. That’s the guy you want in your program.”