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ETHS boys basketball: Adams breaks through for new-look Wildkit cagers

Curious fans of the Evanston basketball program likely spent the summer intrigued by the arrival of four transfers who will hope to make an impact for a Wildkit team that otherwise might have faced a rebuilding year in 2022-23.

But while new arrivals Hunter Duncan (Saint Viator), Josh Thomas (Stevenson), Nik Raic (Libertyville) and Ephraim Chase (Chicago Sullivan) all tried to establish themselves playing in front of a new coaching staff, the month of June belonged to returning starterPrince Adams.

The 6-foot-5 senior forward enjoyed a breakthrough summer and he’s not finished yet. After leading the Wildkits to a combined record of 10-3 at shootouts at Marquette University, Riverside-Brookfield and Ridgewood, Adams will spend the month of July attempting to continue his solid all-around play on the AAU circuit for the Young and Reckless program based in Chicago.

Any resemblance between the Adams who, as a junior averaged 7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds, and the player who dominated at both ends of the court any time he was on the floor over the past 3 weeks is purely coincidental.

Just ask Evanston head coach Mike Ellis.

“Prince is a different player, a different person now,” said Ellis. “He’s been making plays that will make you stand up out of your chair this summer. He’s doing things I’ve never seen him do over the past 3 years.

“He’s always had that love of the game and he’s always in the gym (practicing). That’s the foundation for him because he loves what he does. But I think he understands now that he needed to make a big leap for us to be successful as a team. He’s the one who has been here 4 years, and he’s the one the new guys are looking to. He’s leading by example.

“His effort is better, there’s a little more sense of urgency for him because it’s his senior year, and I think his confidence is at an all-time high. He feels more ownership now, that this is his team, and I don’t think he’s ever felt that before. He’s a very unselfish player and a very unselfish person, but consistency is definitely the key for him now. He’s seeing more results on a day-to-day basis than we’ve seen in the past.”

Adams’ improvement in his overall game was apparent to the casual fan and to the college coaches who flocked to shootouts at Riverside-Brookfield and Ridgewood, especially. He piled up good numbers in running clock games against some strong competition, including a 21-point, 13-rebound effort against a talented West Aurora club on the second day of play at RB.

Primarily a shot blocker and rebounder in his career to date at ETHS, Adams has expanded his game in eye-catching fashion. His ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket against big defenders, combined with a determination to grab every rebound within reach, lifted the unassuming senior to an elite level over that 3-week stretch.

He’s not the player who as a junior would often pick up an offensive foul the first time he touched the ball in a game — and slipped into a passive mode after that — any more.

“Last year he had one basic spin move, with his back to the basket,” Ellis explained. “Now there’s more of an arsenal to his game. He’s more confident with his ball-handling and he’s more confident facing the basket, not just when he’s on the block (underneath). He’s more comfortable in more situations and that’s been a big part of his success this summer.

“And even when he shoots from 3 (point range), he’s shooting with as much confidence as anyone we have out there.”

Adams’ attempt to step up into the spotlight after serving as a role player in 2 previous varsity seasons is a breakthrough out of his comfort zone. That sense of urgency that many seniors feel in their final seasons — along with the hope of trying to continue their careers and get some notice from college recruiters — is just part of his motivation.

He’s also playing for his late nephew. Nine-year-old Jeremiah Tousaint fell victim to gun violence in May and his death was a shock to the Evanston senior.

“I was really close to him. He was like a little brother to me,” Adams said. “My family helped me through it after what happened to him, and now I’m a lot more focused on what I need to do. I’m learning to be more consistent every day, outside of basketball, too. I’m trying to do all the right things more consistently.

“Even though defense is still the most important part of my game, I wanted to show another side of my game this summer. I want to show people that I’m an all-around player and I want to be as consistent as possible. That’s my mindset.

“I think I’m more aggressive mentally and I’ve gotten more confident in my skills. Now I just make up my mind and go! Instead of pulling back on the court, I’m more assertive. And for this to work for us this year — we’ve been close to winning State and that’s my goal — I have to be as focused as possible. I like what we did this summer, but we can do way better.”

Adams’ shot-blocking and dunking ability produced highlight film moments again and again on those summer weekends. Ellis’ favorite moment? It came up in Wisconsin with the Wildkits struggling to hold off a strong Nicolet team on their first weekend of competition as a unit.

“It was a 1-possession game and Prince made the best tip-dunk I’ve ever seen,” Ellis said. “He reached back over his head with one hand to grab the ball, and then in the same motion threw it down with two hands. It was a monster dunk and it happened all in one motion! When that happened, everyone else on the floor stopped to watch the end of our game.

“What our whole coaching staff has seen from Prince is that he’s not just 1 of 5 players on the floor now, he’s one of the best players on the floor. He dictates what happens on every possession and he has his fingerprints on the game a lot more than he ever has before.”

For a team with so many newcomers, the Wildkits played unselfish team basketball for the most part. Duncan’s explosiveness at the point guard position and a 25-point effort from Thomas led to a 58-53 trimming of a strong Chicago Kenwood team at RB, and the 6-foot-7 Raic contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds in a win over Peoria Central Sunday at Ridgewood after he established his legal residency later than the other newcomers.

Chase, a 6-foot-4 guard, missed most of the summer due to an ankle injury. All 4 transfers are entering their senior years and all 4 are potential starters in November, according to Ellis.

Unusual as it is for players to make a move to another school for their last year of competition, transfers aren’t exactly new to the ETHS program. David Gieser moved in last year and led the Wildkits in scoring — and was their only all-conference selection — and the leading scorer in school history, Blake Peters, grew up in Highland Park before joining his AAU teammate, Jaylin Gibson, at Evanston.

The mobility of players in the current cage environment doesn’t have the stigma attached to it like it did in the past. No one blames an individual (or his family) for seeking a better opportunity in another program if it’s possible for them to make a legal move.

“Each of these student-athletes is in a separate circumstance,” Ellis said. “Before I came to Evanston I had a job (at Peoria Richwoods) that was a good job, and I didn’t want to leave. But I saw the resources that Evanston has, and I saw that it was a special place, and that’s why I came here. The leadership and resources here are second to none, so it would be foolish for me to ever tell someone NOT to come here.

“If you look at any high school athletic program you’ll see that rarely does the freshman class look the same four years later. We’ve had players transfer in and we’ve lost an equal number of players, too. Coming here can scare some people off because we have standards that are set, and the expectations are high. To put that (Evanston) uniform on and to play at Beardsley Gym, against the schedule we put together, that’s something special — and they want to be a part of that.”

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