“Time flies; I miss UHart [The University of Hartford] it really was a blessing for me.”
Back in the summer of 2006, the debate raged among NBA scouts and coaches about whether Paul Millsap or Kenny Adeleke was the better prospect.
At the time, Millsap, a junior out of Louisiana Tech, and Adeleke, a fifth-year senior fresh off his only year at the University of Hartford, towered above the rest of the college basketball landscape as the game’s two premier rebounders. Both had taken the road less traveled from mid-major college hoops to the doorsteps of the NBA – Millsap had eschewed larger programs to remain in-state, and Adeleke who had revived his career at tiny Hartford after being dismissed from Hofstra following three stellar seasons.
Leading up to the draft, Adeleke appeared to have the edge, measuring an inch taller than Millsap (6’9” to 6’8”), winning MVP of the Orlando predraft camp, and, by all accounts, dominating Millsap during the head-to-head matchup arranged by the Lakers.
Fast-forward a decade and Millsap, the 47th pick in 2006, is an 11th year as a pro and a three-time All-Star who scored 45-points in a playoff game last season against the Celtics.
Adeleke, meanwhile, has never officially set foot in The League, despite coming one bounce of the basketball away for three straight preseasons. After going undrafted in 2006, Adeleke went to summer camp three times, earning vet camp invites with the then-Super Sonics (where he played alongside the likes of Ray Allen and Kevin Durant) and New York Knicks.
Early in his pro career, Adeleke earned a hefty paycheck playing in some of the best league’s in the world, among them the top leagues in Israel, Turkey, Italy and the ACB League in Spain – regarded as the best domestic league in the world outside of the NBA. Adeleke also played in big bank league’s like China, the Ukraine. A torn Achilles and the endless march of time saw Adeleke leave Europe several seasons ago and settle into a routine of winters in South America (Uruguay and Venezuela) and summer in Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
But this past summer, Adeleke decided to head back across the Atlantic, signing with Final Spor Genclik Bursa in Turkey, the fourth time Adeleke has suited up to play inside Anatolia.
“I just wanted to play in the most competitive league,” he recently explained.
Just an hour and a half separates Bursa from Adeleke’s, Banvit, the Turkish superpower Adeleke signed with in 2007, but it might as well be a universe away. Back then, Adeleke was a hotshot 24-year-old, a second-year pro signing with one of the best teams in one of the best leagues in the world. Now, he’s 33, a relative old man playing for a second division squad while trying to stave off father time and prove he can still play at an elite level.
“For me it’s a challenge: They remember me being a younger stud. So I work hard everyday to show them I’m the same player who didn’t lose a step,” he said.
And so far, Adeleke is showing exactly that: Through 13 games Adeleke is leading the TBL in rebounds, averaging 14 per contest – nearly 3 more per game than the next closest player, Ousmane Drame, himself a young rebounder who just missed out on an NBA spot a year ago and who bares a resemblance to a young Adeleke.
But according to Adeleke, he isn’t thinking about the what-ifs of life, and remains focused on the next game and next bounce of the basketball.
“It’s great, [I’m]really thankful for this opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been working hard all summer and put my faith in God.”