Curtain goes down on Jalen Adams' UConn basketball career

Memphis, Tenn. — His teammates badly wanted to give UConn senior Jalen Adams a proper send-off.

Suffering a season-ending 39-point loss in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals wasn't what the Huskies had in mind.

Adams saw his UConn career end Friday afternoon against top-seeded Houston, 84-45, at FedExForum.

"I was here for three of his four years," junior Christian Vital said. "I even knew him when we were back in high school. Just to see one of my best friends in college basketball and life, it hurt to see him go out like that because I know the time he puts in and I know the talent that he has.

"I know the expectations, especially as guards, coming to UConn. It didn't go the way he expected or I expected. I just wish him the best and I know he'll have a great professional career."

In his final act as a Husky, Adams grabbed a rebound and set up Vital for a break-away layup. Coach Dan Hurley removed Adams from the game with 51 seconds remaining.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson briefly embraced Adams before being warmly greeted by Hurley and his teammates near the UConn bench.

"A whole bunch of emotions," Adams said. "I tried to think about the good things more than the bad things. Seeing all my brothers standing for me, it hits a soft spot in your heart. All the love that you see on your team is different from college basketball to the next level.

"People will never have that same genuine love for you."

Adams finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. He ended up 10th on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,706 points, falling five points shy of passing former Houston guard Rob Gray as the AAC's career leader. He's seventh on the UConn career assist list with 511.

He joins former UConn great Shabazz Napier, another Roxbury, Mass., native, as the only Huskies to pile up at least 1,500 points and 500 assists.

While Adams will leave UConn with some impressive numbers, he never achieved the level of team success as previous guards like Napier and Kemba Walker. He played in just one NCAA tournament and won one AAC tournament championship.

That's what happens when you join a program that was on the decline.

Since being hired last March, coach Dan Hurley has grown fond of Adams.

"He's had incredible bad luck in terms of the timing of a player of his caliber coming into the program," Hurley said. "My heart breaks for him because of the conditions that he's had to play through. And he's had an amazing career playing through it.

"... I don't think a guy could have handled it better. I don't think somebody could have just kept such a positive attitude and been such a good guy to be around while having kind of everything around him not be what he signed on for. I'll always admire that about him. I hope to stay connected with him through what I think is going to be an amazing professional career."

Adams battled through adversity during his senior season.

A knee injury kept him out of seven games. He returned for the regular-season finale at East Carolina, leading the Huskies to their first road victory of the season. He had a strong game against South Florida in Thursday's first round, contributing 19 points, six rebounds and five assists in an 80-73 win.

Adams will leave UConn with some valuable life lessons, on and off the court.

"I feel like I've learned so much about myself, so many lessons, how to handle adversity when things aren't going my way," he said. "I have to go with it. ... You have to stay balanced and keep a level head. That's  really what I learned form being here.

"And I think my senior season has been my biggest season for me mentally. I think since coach (Hurley) got here, he's pushed me to limits I haven't been pushed before. And that is why I have had my best season since I have been in college basketball."

Adams then turned to Hurley, who was seated next to him on the press conference podium and said: "Appreciate you."

g.keefe@theday.com

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