Thursday, December 18, 2008

What if…Kenny Adeleke plays his last year at Hofstra?

I have too much time on my hands, so I knew Tommy Shaw of Styx had a solo album called "What If" without even having to look it up.

A few weeks back, I mentioned to my wife a feature idea I had for the blog. (I’ve yet to debut it, so you’re going to have to remain in suspense at least a little while longer) Like she so often does, she came up with an even better idea: Asking “What if?” about pivotal moments in Hofstra basketball history.

Not the obvious ones—like what if the 2006 Selection Committee didn’t feature George Mason’s AD—but possibilities we haven’t already spent years pondering. The plan was to hold these off until after the hoops season, when there’s less to obsess over, but, well, it’s finals week at Hofstra and there’s not much to talk about, so away we go with a “What if” raised, appropriately enough, by my wife:

What if Kenny Adeleke plays his senior season at Hofstra?

As much bandwidth as I’ve spent waxing optimistic over how many solid big men the Flying Dutchmen have this year, the truth is the best one Tom Pecora ever had is Adeleke. Most of the post players who land at Hofstra are projects. Not Adeleke, who was 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and a legitimate top-of-the-line Division I talent. He was a member of a DePaul recruiting class ranked among the nation’s best in 2001 (DePaul’s coach back then was current Towson head honcho Pat Kennedy) yet asked out of his letter of intent during his senior year to attend Hofstra.

Adeleke arrived a stud and got a lot better. He racked up 35 double-doubles and averaged 14.4 points and 9.3 rebounds a game in three seasons. He led the CAA in rebounding in his final two years and earned All-CAA honors as a junior. He was on pace to become only the third Hofstra player with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (that Q&A is conducted by Hofstra, WRHU alum Adam Shandler, who was also my press box neighbor at Shuart Stadium in ’94 and ‘95) and likely would have moved into the top 10 on the all-time scoring list with even an average senior year.

We forget how good he was (remarkably, this is the first time I've "tagged" him in a post) because he played on teams transitioning to the CAA—nobody’s getting nostalgic over the Dutchmen going 34-56 with Adeleke, though their record improved every season—and because of how quickly and mysteriously he left.

If you ever want to know how the weather is at Hofstra, ask someone In The Know the real deal with Adeleke. The school cited his “violation of university and team rules” and announced his dismissal from the team for with a terse one-sentence press release on a Friday afternoon in September 2004, an old-school move intended to bury the bad news during the quietest news cycle of the week.

The school also distanced itself from Adeleke in the 2004-05 media guide, the front cover of which featured a photo of the huddling Dutchmen and the words TEAM FIRST! Inside, Adeleke’s departure was mentioned, in the briefest terms, on page 12, under starters lost. The reason: “Dismissed.”

Adeleke transferred almost immediately to Hartford, whose head coach, Larry Harrison, was an assistant at DePaul during Adeleke’s initial recruitment. And more than four years later, his departure is still topic non grata in Hempstead. Something pretty serious had to happen for 1,296 points and 837 rebounds to get tossed to the curb—even at a school like Hofstra with a no-nonsense school president who suspended Wendell Gibson and Rick Apodaca half a season for smoking marijuana.

The Flying Dutchmen sure could have used Adeleke in 2004-05, when he was probably the missing piece and the difference between a first-round exit in the NIT and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Adeleke would have been a huge help that year, especially with Gibson limited to 18 games as he recovered from knee surgery. Can you imagine the inside-outside game with Loren Stokes, Carlos Rivera, Antoine Agudio, Adeleke, Gibson and junior transfer Adrian Uter?

Hofstra went 12-6 in CAA play and led Old Dominion by 10 points in the second half of the semifinal before falling to the eventual conference champs 72-58. How many more conference games would the Flying Dutchmen have won with Adeleke? How much higher would they have finished? How safe would a 10-point second half lead been with him patrolling the paint?

Some details about Adeleke’s tumultuous time at Hofstra trickled out after he landed at Harford, including chronic tardiness that got him yanked from the starting lineup during the final two games of the 2003-04 season and his arrest stemming from a fight in Staten Island the day before his dismissal (all charges were dropped). And his time at Hartford—which nearly came to an end before it ever began—was marred by more tardiness as well an incident in which he punched out a mirror in the locker room.

But he was predictably dominant once he hit the floor for the Hawks in 2005-06. Adeleke racked up 24 double-doubles (breaking by one Malik Rose’s single-season conference record), led the conference in scoring and rebounding and won the player of the week a record eight times (yet somehow did not win player of the year). But he got no closer to the NCAA Tournament in his lone year with Hartford, which fell to New Hampshire in the quarterfinals of the 2006 America East tournament than he did in his final year with Hofstra, which was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2004 CAA tourney by Old Dominion.

Hartford fans (I’m honestly not sure if they exist, my brother-in-law graduated from there and has never uttered word one about the hoops program) probably wonder what could have happened if he’d played there four years. We wonder what might have been if he’d played here one more.

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1 comment:

MLB1974 said...

Nicely done. The one element not mentioned in your post is the affect his dismissal had on his teammates. How integral a team member had Adeleke become, and how did they deal with his unceremonial booting? Also, who took his place on that squad. Honestly, I'm not certain I remember...Also, how much were teammates in the know about what was going on with Adeleke? Were there other team repurcussions about which fans never knew?