By Jeff Keeling
Mary Waldron was fishing for anything helpful when she called Presbyterian College head basketball coach Greg Nibert last winter to see whether he had a player who might help coach her Special Olympics basketball team.
The Clinton, S.C. High School special education teacher wound up reeling in a prize in 2013 Science Hill High School graduate Will Adams, the first name Nibert mentioned to her.
“He came, he was excited, he got on the court with these guys and he had a rapport with them right from the beginning,” Waldron said. In his limited spare time, Adams helped guide the players to a satisfying season, and built relationships that impressed Waldron for their depth.
One of her players already had some emotional issues, and had just lost his mother on top of that. Enter Adams. “He was a very emotionally bound up kid,” Waldron said. “He locked on to Will, and Will locked on to him – it was an extremely good situation for my student.
“He was amazing. He will make an excellent teacher, or whatever he chooses to be,” Waldron continued. “He has a genuine confidence, but it’s also a humility. He’s a total package.”
Adams’ work with the Clinton team is a primary reason the Blue Hose junior guard has been nominated for a spot on the 2016 Allstate National Association of Basketball Coaches and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Good Works Team. Ten Division I players will be chosen by voting panels including former NBA and WNBA stars Grant Hill and Tamika Catchings and announced in February, along with 10 counterparts from divisions II, III and the NAIA. In their fourth year, the teams, “recognize players … who have made outstanding contributions in the areas of volunteerism and civic involvement,” according to a news release.
Adams learned of his nomination Thursday. “I woke up to a bunch of picture messages,” he said that evening. “It really made my day. I just thanked God for putting me in the position He’s put me in to be around special needs kids and be able to help others while they help me as well.”
Adams began interacting with special needs students while a two-sport star at Science Hill. He got involved in the school’s peer tutoring program, which pairs special needs students with fellow high schoolers, and built some close bonds.
“I really enjoyed working with them, and I still have bonds with a couple of them,” Adams said. “It really touched me, and made me realize how blessed I am and people around me are. I saw something in it that really, really made me feel good.”
Adams poured himself into those relationships even though he had dealt with plenty of adversity growing up, Science Hill football coach Stacy Carter said.
“People blame circumstances a lot of times when they don’t give of themselves,” Carter said. “Will had all that stuff, but it’s like the Lord put His hand on him. Everybody likes Will. He has a way of communicating with special needs kids, his peers and adults.”
Adams said he’s had a role model for such behavior: Brian Gibson, aka “Candyman,” who coached him and his brothers in junior football, and has since, along with his wife, become Adams’ guardian.
“He just showed me that he really cared about other people, and he’s a very selfless man,” Adams said. “He took me and my brothers in, and we were really blessed to have somebody like that in our lives.”
Like Mary Waldron and Stacy Carter – and, one gets the sense, every adult who really knows him – Presbyterian coach Nibert speaks glowingly of Adams. He recruited Adams, a natural shooting guard, as a point guard late in the 2013 recruiting season.
Adams has played limited minutes his first two seasons, but his value to the team as a leader and motivator for others has landed him a spot as one of four co-captains this season, Nibert said.
“His leadership, and how he acts on and off the court and at practices is why we made him a captain. He has one of the biggest hearts of anybody that we’ve ever had in this program, and in terms of work ethic and caring about people and being one of the best students on the team, he’s just a guy that is very uplifting.”
That’s not to say Adams is a slouch on the court. Nibert called him, “one of the best shooters on the team, if not the best.” At 5 foot 10, he’s short for a shooting guard, but the coach expects his playing time to increase. “We’re struggling a little bit shooting the ball, and he came in the other night off the bench and went one for two and made a big hustle play. That’s what he does, and I think he’ll do even more than that as the season goes on.”
Regardless, Adams will thrive, Nibert said. Whether it’s a matter of less playing time than he might desire or bigger obstacles in life, “we’ve learned a lot of stuff from him in terms of his attitude, and him being so sacrificial and unselfish – he handles it tremendously and things like that aren’t easy.
“Something I think he’s had to do his whole life, and even here, is to act like an adult, and you know, sometimes adults don’t act like adults. Everybody on the team can learn a lot on how he handles adversity and how he handles maybe not playing as much as he’d like – you can never tell it with his attitude and effort, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
For his part, Adams hopes to return to Clinton and help coach later this school year. A history major and education minor, he has his sights set on working in special education. That would be just fine with Waldron – and no surprise to Stacy Carter.
“He’s a special kid, and we’re really proud of him,” Carter said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least, him doing something like that.”