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Conversation with Kenny Adeleke

December 14, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Conversation with Hofstra’s Kenny Adeleke

by Adam Shandler

Kenny Adeleke, Hofstra’s junior forward from Queens, NY, has endured a problem common among many mid-major stars: Losing seasons, but stupendous personal stats. The Pride, during Adeleke’s freshman and sophomore years, was unremarkable. Prior to his arrival, Hofstra had won back-to-back America East Conference championships and appeared in two NCAA tournaments. But when the former prep standout arrived in Hempstead, he was greeted by a coach other than Jay Wright and his team had moved from the A-East to the Colonial.

Still, the 6-8 forward, who had appeared on Fox Sports’ “Preps” as a high school senior, chalked up fine numbers. Adeleke averaged nine rebounds a game in his first two collegiate seasons and entered 2003-04 second only to UConn’s Emeka Okafor as the top returning rebounder in D-I. While his digits are down in the early going, Adeleke had a breakout game in a recent upset of St. John’s (20 points, 13 rebounds), a momentum-builder for both the junior forward and the 3-3 Pride. His 12 points against Columbia put him 36 points away from the Hofstra 1,000-point club and he’s on pace to become just the third Hofstra Alum to notch 1,000 points and rebounds in his career.

I caught up with Kenny after a 58-55 win at Columbia, a game that featured inspired play by the Lions, a reunion of two former Hofstra assistants and a buzzer-beating trifecta from the Pride’s freshman guard Carlos Rivera.

Adam Shandler: Sheesh, I know you’d like to win ’em a little easier than that one, but you’ve now strung together a couple of nice wins. Are you guys starting to gel now?

Kenny Adeleke: We’ve definitely had our ups and downs but I think this year is going to be different. We’ve got more talent on this team and we’ve been working really hard in practice every day. Our defense is better and we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm, especially in practice; practice has been like games because we’ve been going so hard. It’s a new Hofstra this year.

We just want to be the best team in New York. We think we can be up there with St. John’s and Manhattan, so in the early part of the season we just want to get some good New York wins.

Shandler: Hofstra didn’t have that really big, eye-popping win in your first two seasons. But you beat St. John’s [earlier this week]. What did the win against the Johnnies do for the mindset of this team?

Adeleke: It was a good win for us cause now we feel we can play against anyone. We lost to a really good Maryland team and a really good Georgia Tech team, but you’ve seen what those teams can do. So to go out and beat St. John’s was huge for us. We’ve got a really tough non-conference schedule and I think that that’s going to help us as we get ready to play teams in the [CAA].

Shandler: I know it’s early, but have you been following some of your CAA counterparts and what they’ve been doing?

Adeleke: Well, Old Dominion beat Virginia Tech; that was a good win for them, a win over a Big East team.

When everyone picked us to finish seventh in the conference, we didn’t buy into it and we went out and beat St. John’s. So when ODU, another team picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference goes out and beats a Big East team like Virginia Tech, you know it’s going to be a good year in the Colonial.

Shandler: You’re close to joining Hofstra’s 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound club. Are you aware of these milestones when you go into a game?

Adeleke: If you tell me before a game how many points I need, then I’ll be aware, but otherwise not really. When I get the 1,000 points I want to do it at home. One of my favorite moments was watching [graduated Hofstra 2-guard] Rick Apodaca get his 1,000-points in front of the home crowd. But it’s going to be a great club to be a part of, 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Shandler: You were recruited by Boston College, New Mexico, UMass, Providence – and you actually signed with Depaul. Why didn’t you stick around at Depaul and how was it that you ended up Hofstra?

Adeleke: It was a tough decision for a couple of reasons. I really didn’t want to leave New York. I’m very close with my family; I have two sisters and a brother and I wanted to be close with them, so that was one part of it.

Depaul had the number one recruiting class in the country. But there were [two players] that weren’t sure if they were going to the NBA or not, and I didn’t want to have a slow start to my college career.

But I really wanted to be in New York. Sometimes players that leave the New York area and go play somewhere else get lost.

Shandler: Who recruited you, [now Villanova coach] Jay Wright or [current Hofstra head coach] Tom Pecora?

Adeleke: Jay Wright did.

Shandler: So even after Coach Wright left for Villanova, you still came to Hofstra.

Adeleke: It was a tough decision, but I really didn’t want to go to a bigger school. I had known Coach Pecora since the 9th grade. We had a good relationship and he had always come by to see me and [good friend and current Hofstra teammate] Danny Walker play in [Robeson] high school. Sometimes, you know what, you just gotta take chance.

Shandler: Coming into this year you were second only to UConn’s Emeka Okafor as the top active rebounder in the country. You’ve only played six games so far, but are you frustrated that you haven’t been putting up the numbers you did last season?

Adeleke: Thing is, teams are playing me a lot tougher this year. They’re double-teaming me and boxing me out better. But we’re winning games. This time last year I’d have been happy to just get the wins. I’ll pick it up though; I’ll get my numbers up and it’ll come along. I just want to get ready for the conference games.

Shandler: You’re an interdisciplinary studies major. What does that mean exactly?

Adeleke: It’s courses in Sociology and Psychology. You learn how other people think and live their lives.

Shandler: Have your studies helped your game?

Adeleke: I’m taking a sports psychology class. I’ve been learning how to relax before a game and how to play my best. It’s been pretty helpful.

Splitting Adams:

December 6th’s Hofstra-Columbia game pit two former Jay Wright assistants against one another: First-year Lions coach Joe Jones, who served under Wright at Hofstra and Villanova, and Tom Pecora, who after Wright left, was promoted to head coach of the Pride.

Said Pecora, “[Columbia] shot 51%, we shot 37%. 90% of what Columbia was doing was effort…We won making plays but they dictated the tempo. I told them to stick together and listen to their coach and they’re gonna be good.”

Jones returned the admiration. “[Pecora’s] like my older brother. He taught me the business. I’ll be forever grateful to him. It was great to go out and battle him but they were the better team and they deserved to win.”

Hofstra escaped Dodge Fitness Center, 58-55, on a three-point buzzer beater from freshman guard Carlos Rivera. “There’s a tape of the state [high school] tournament in Miami of him taking the same shot. I told him just do what you did on the tape. I tried to keep him loose,” Pecora recalls of the pre-shot huddle. “Carlos has great poise. He doesn’t look at the clock. He doesn’t play like a freshman.”

Rivera’s heroic bucket made up three of his seven points on the day.


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