Bucks newcomer a model of relentlessness
I overheard a conversation the other night during which Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Larry Drew was being taken to task for the extended playing time he has been allotting to Jeff Adrien.
The same individual later knocked the value of the National Basketball Development League, in which Adrien spent part of his first three seasons of professional basketball.
The premise was that any substantial minutes that players such as Adrien and Tony Mitchell are receiving are stunting the development of the Bucks’ young nucleus.
Hearing these perspectives made me long for the days when Milwaukee had some of the most loyal and knowledgeable fans in the National Basketball Association.
They supported the team the Bucks had on the floor through thick and thin and treated the players with respect.
They appreciated those players’ displays of sheer hustle, drive and determination and let them know about it.
They didn’t constantly second-guess the team’s management or its coach.
When they did express their perspectives on the team, they usually had something intelligent to say.
Maybe we need more retro nights.
Since the Bucks acquired Adrien along with Ramon Sessions from the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour on Feb. 20, Adrien has been absolutely relentless.
Those who have been paying attention have called him an enforcer, a warrior, a throwback.
He has earned every one of his minutes and made his teammates earn theirs rather than inheriting them.
Drew recently called him a pitbull – in the most complimentary sense of the word.
“Playing with physicality is something that is a part of my everyday speech before the game and before practice, and that is who Jeff is,” Drew said. “He is an undersized ‘4,’ but I coached an undersized ‘4’ last year in Atlanta in Ivan Johnson.
“Both guys are very similar in that they play hard, compete, and treat every shot as a missed shot. They are not afraid to get in and bang around or hit anybody. That is something I have been preaching from the beginning and he certainly brings that to the table.”
Sheer numbers can’t come close to quantifying the element of toughness Adrien has brought to the Bucks, but the 6-foot-7-inch, 245-pound forward’s statistics have spoken volumes of their own.
Adrien grabbed 10 or more rebounds in five of his first eight games with the Bucks, averaging 9 points and 8.9 rebounds through eight contests. He established his NBA career high with 15 points against the Sacramento Kings on March 5 and eclipsed that two nights later with his first Bucks double-double, totaling 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks against the New Orleans Pelicans.
And his 21.5 minutes per game to that point in the season were earned. They weren’t a matter of entitlement based on his draft position (he wasn’t selected in the 2009 NBA Draft following four seasons at the University of Connecticut), his potential or where he might fit into somebody’s picture of the Bucks’ future.
When the 28-year-old Adrien learned that he had been traded to the Bucks, he came to Milwaukee taking nothing for granted, intent on making the most of his opportunity.
“Getting traded from a playoff team to a bottom team in the rankings, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But guys have been welcoming, helping me out off the court, going out. It’s been great being in Milwaukee so far.
“It would definitely be a blessing to be a part of a team that’s growing, that plays hard every night. It would be great. It would be a blessing in disguise, really.”
Not surprisingly, Adrien didn’t arrive in Milwaukee with any preconceived notions of the Bucks or what role he might play on his new team.
When asked what impressions of the Bucks he had before they acquired him, Adrien’s response was telltale.
“I didn’t really have any,” he said. “I hadn’t really watched any games. Being here now, it’s a group of guys that like to play basketball and play hard. That can carry over to the end of the year. We can finish out on a positive note.
“Some people might think we aren’t playing for anything, but I believe we are. I don’t think anybody wants to finish last. If it happens, so be it, but we’re definitely trying catch Philadelphia. That’s our playoffs.”
Adrien made his mark at the collegiate level, becoming the first UConn player to amass over 1,600 points and 1,100 rebounds in a career. He ranks third in Huskies history in rebounds (1,126), sixth in games played (133), eighth in field goals (602) and 14th in scoring (1,603 points).
Adrien’s mere presence in the NBA, however, wasn’t something that many expected. He had to travel the low road and pay his dues to get there.
He began his professional career in 2009 with the Spanish league's Leite Río Breogán in Lugo, Galicia.
He made the Golden State Warriors’ 2010 opening-night roster after going to their training camp as a non-roster invitee. He played 15 games before being waived, and spent most of the 2010-11 season with the NBDL’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Erie BayHawks, averaging a combined 18.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals.
Adrien made the NBDL All-Star Team and was voted the NBDL’s Impact Player of the Year by the league’s coaches after helping the Vipers to 18-4 following his acquisition from the BayHawks.
He played a total of 83 games with the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats spanning 2010-2013 before being dealt to Milwaukee.
He has clearly been a man on a mission since his arrival, and he has developed a keen awareness of what he brings to a team.
“I know what I’ve got to do to play in this league – play tough, rebound, help out my teammates,” Adrien said. “If I do stuff like that – dirty work – they’ll keep me around.
“I don’t mind doing it.”
Adrien considers himself blessed to be with the Bucks. He enjoyed the recent visits to Milwaukee by Glenn Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two of the franchise’s all-time greats.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve found there’s a lot of history with this franchise,” he said. “When they brought back ‘Big Dog’ Robinson in my first game here, that brought chills to my body seeing him out there. I used to watch him growing up. I remember his rookie year, with Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. It was a blessing seeing Kareem.
“Those are legends.”
Here’s hoping there will always be room on the Bucks roster for a student of the game who earns his way and his keep there and counts his blessings every day.