When people think of New Zealand, basketball is usually far from the first thing that comes to mind. Cricket, netball and rugby have forever commanded the nation's attention and remain New Zealand's most successful sports. But basketball is a growing game there and it seems, finally, the Kiwi's may have produced a prospect as good as any coming through the ranks.
The prospect in question goes by the name of Steven Adams—a 7'0", 240-pound center and brother of Olympic and three-time World Champion shot-putter, Valerie Adams. He has verbally committed to become part of Jamie Dixon's loaded 2012 recruiting class at Pittsburgh, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
His game has improved rapidly after being taken under the wing of Kenny McFadden, who taught Adams the ins and outs of the game. It wasn't long until all of the New Zealand basketball community was talking about this Adams kid, touting him as potentially the best player to ever come out of the country.
In 2011, Adams played in the New Zealand National League for eventual champions, the Wellington Saints, at just 17 years old.
He wasn't given huge amounts of game time, but gained valuable experience in his time with the team, and was surrounded by some of the top players in the league. When he did get on the court though, the crowds were treated to glimpses of his ability.
No clearer was this than when he came up against the Otago Nuggets, who boasted a frontcourt of Lance Allred and Craig Bradshaw. Allred spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09 and prior to that was an NBA D-League All-Star with the Idaho Stampede. Bradshaw was a top college player with Winthrop and a fringe draft prospect.
Adams wasn't bettered by either. Predominantly matching up against Allred, Adams showed his ability to mix it with the best at just 17 years old. He defended well, making block after block as the Nuggets big men struggled to get a shot. He showed his athleticism on offence, spinning off Allred more than once, proving he was quite capable of getting to the hoop against top quality players.
Just weeks after their encounter, Allred was called in to train with the Charlotte Bobcats, highlighting that he is still NBA quality. The fact that Adams was able to get the better of a player of this calibre at his age speaks volumes for his potential.
He was then named to the Tall Blacks (New Zealand National Team) training squad for the Stankovic Cup in China, but was forced to withdraw as he was required for Team Asia at Adidas Nations. 2011 would be his second appearance at the tournament.
It was here that the world really saw what this kid was capable of; he put up big number after big number against some of the top young players in the world.
Against USA 2012 Red, he put up 20 points and grabbed 24 rebounds, while also scoring 37 points and 14 rebounds against USA 2013 Red. He finished the tournament averaging 22 points per game and 16.8 rebounds.
Now, the player the whole of New Zealand has been talking about is recognised worldwide as one of the top prospects, both at the NCAA and NBA levels. He has been ranked as high as No. 2 in mock drafts for the 2013 NBA draft.
He is expected to join back up with the Tall Blacks for the upcoming FIBA Oceania's Tournament, where New Zealand will compete against Australia for the right to represent Oceania at the 2012 Olympics.
After graduating from his high school, Scots College, he will travel to the USA, where he will attend Notre Dame Prep before joining up with University of Pittsburgh for the 2012-13 NCAA season.
This will be Adams' first real test in a top level competition; he will consistently be playing against top players. He's shown already that he is capable of matching up against the best, so there is no doubt he is capable of being an extreme force in the NCAA.
His athleticism is as good as any big man going around, while his ever-improving jump shot and blue-collar work ethic should see him put up big numbers. Defensively there are few better coming through the ranks and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that he will be one of the favourites to win the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
How well he does will determine how far he goes. But going by what he's already shown, this kid is NBA bound.