With nod, Wink accepts leader’s role

When he was recruited in high school, Wink Adams was not regarded as a “sleeper,” which is a common term used for an underrated player. Several big-name college basketball coaches had an eye on him.

Billy Donovan tried to talk Adams into attending Florida. Adams also entertained offers from Arkansas and Connecticut. The fourth school on his final list was UNLV.

The past two years, Adams watched from afar as Donovan coached the Gators to back-to-back national championships, knowing he could have been a part of those teams.

“No regrets,” Adams said. “I think I made a great choice.”

He wanted to play immediately, to play a big part in helping build a program into a winner, and he has done both with the Rebels.

Adams is the highest-ranked recruit fourth-year coach Lon Kruger has brought to UNLV. As a senior at Gulf Shores Academy in Houston, Adams averaged 28 points, 12 assists and eight steals per game. One recruiting service ranked him the second-best point guard in the nation and a top-20 player overall.

As he heads into his junior season, Adams is the Rebels’ heartbeat, the only returning starter from a team that finished 30-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in March.

The 6-foot shooting guard was surrounded by five seniors last season, when he was second on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game. Now he’s surrounded by more responsibility.

“It’s really a transition going from a role player to a leader,” Adams said. “But there’s not too much pressure on me. I believe in my teammates.

“Losing five important seniors, they’re hard to replace, and I can see why a lot of people say we’re rebuilding. Once we get our chemistry going, we’ll be a pretty good team. There’s nothing to worry about.”

That theory is about to be tested. After a Tuesday exhibition game against Washburn, UNLV opens the regular season against Montana State at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Adams said he has developed “real strong chemistry” with sophomore Marcus Lawrence, who is expected to start at point guard. Lawrence and Adams are roommates on campus at Dayton Hall.

Lawrence’s mouth moves faster than his feet. Adams is not as outgoing.

“I like him because he doesn’t talk that much, but he shows so much emotion when he plays,” Lawrence said. “Wink doesn’t really say too much unless he gets upset. He’s more of a lead-by-example type of guy.

“It’s just a good feeling to be around him. He’s one of the funniest guys I know. He makes me laugh all the time.”

Being in the spotlight on the basketball court is something Adams must get used to, even if he shies away from it otherwise.

“I like to have fun,” he said. “But I’m the type of person, I don’t like being around a lot of people, so I don’t go to parties.”

As a preseason first team All-Mountain West Conference selection, Adams will see plenty of attention this season. Defenses will be schemed to stop him.

So others must step up to make shots. It might be seniors Corey Bailey and Curtis Terry, or juniors Joe Darger and Mareceo Rutledge or sophomores Lawrence and Lamar Roberson — Adams will lean on all of them at different times.

“I think the opponents are always going to be aware when Wink’s got the ball,” Kruger said. “But he’s a willing passer. When there’s an extra defender on him, he’ll give it up and create a good opportunity for a teammate.

“I don’t think he has to step outside his comfort zone. We want him to be aggressive to score, but we’ve got other guys who can score, too.”

Adams scored in double figures in 27 games last season and led the team in scoring 12 times. He also leads with his intensity on defense, and occasionally shows his emotions.

“When I get mad, I get to yelling and talking to everybody, and that’s just how I am,” he said.

In a Jan. 23 home game against San Diego State, Adams was held scoreless in the first half on 0-for-8 shooting. He got angry, scored 20 points in the second half and led the Rebels to a 68-61 victory.

“He competes hard and wants the ball in late-game situations, and the other players really respect that,” Kruger said.

“When a guy has accomplished on the court what he has, I think it’s natural to look in that direction, and Wink sets a great tone.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2907.

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