Sports Column: Community proud of No. 13

Published 10:23 am Thursday, October 15, 2020

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Pride in athletic teams and players has always been important, especially in small communities like Beaufort County, where everyone is familiar with the teams and players, and most people read the sports’ page. Beaufort County has been home to some great athletes, a few who have risen to the professional ranks. Some of these legendary athletes include football players Terrance Copper, Walter Rasby and C. J. Wilson; basketball players Dominic Wilkins, Damien Wilkins, Richard Coffey and Alvis Rogers; and baseball great Ryan Zimmerman. Currently the area can boast of NBA star with the Miami Heat, Edrice Adebayo, better known as Bam.

Bam grew up in the small community of Acre Station with his mother Marilyn Blount, a mother who always wanted the best for her son and who expected the best from him. She has always been his most devoted fan. Northeast Elementary School was the place where his formal education began and also the place where he was introduced to basketball. As a 12-year old seventh grader, Bam became a member of the Northeast Cougars’ football and basketball teams, under the guidance of Coach Pooh Woolard. Coach Woolard says that Bam didn’t know much about playing basketball when he first joined the Northeast team but learned quickly. He could already dunk but was hesitant to do so, and he was a very unselfish player who didn’t want to be considered a ball hog.

From Northeast, Bam journeyed just a couple of miles down the road to Northside High School to continue his education and his basketball experience with Coach Mike Proctor. A very close bond developed between the coach and his young player. Coach Proctor often commented about Bam’s exceptional work ethic and his desire to learn and improve. Everyone in the area knew of the tall center who led the Panthers to the semi-finals of the Eastern Regional Championship during his junior season. By this time Bam had also been playing AAU basketball for a number of years and had established quite a reputation for himself across the state of North Carolina and across the AAU circuit.

Just before his senior year of high school, Edrice decided to transfer to High Point Christian Academy in High Point, NC. Bam was the sixth ranked recruit in the country. He led his team to a NCISAA state championship appearance and was named the NC Gatorade Player of the Year and played in both the McDonald’s All-America Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. He was named Second Team All American by USA Today, was a finalist for the Morgan Wooten Player of the Year Award, and was named North Carolina Mr. Basketball in 2016. While gaining a reputation as a superior basketball player, Edrice was also an honor roll student.

He committed to play for Kentucky. The Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference title and were a two-seed in the NCAA tournament, where Kentucky lost in the Elite Eight to Carolina. Bam was named to the 2017 SEC All-Freshman team and Second Team All-SEC.

Following his freshman season at Kentucky, Adebayo declared for the NBA draft and was rewarded by being drafted in the first round, 14th overall, by the Miami Heat. An interesting note at this point in his career is his choice of 13 as the number for his jersey. Number 13 was his mother’s number when she played in high school, a fitting tribute to his mother, whom he respects and adores.

He was a role player in his first two seasons with the Heat. Then came the 2019-2020 NBA season, and Bam Adebayo began to shine. He was selected an NBA All-Star and won the NBA Skills Challenge, Dec 16 Eastern Conference Player of the Week, NBA All Defensive Team, 5th in Defensive Player of the Year, and Runner-Up for Most Improved Player. What a regular season!

Then came the playoffs. Though the Heat entered the playoffs as a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, Adebayo and his team were not deterred and set out to disprove all the nay-sayers who thought their playoff run would be brief. In the first series between the Heat and the Indiana Pacers, the Heat swept the Pacers. In the second round of the Eastern playoffs, the Heat surprised the basketball analysts by defeating the Number 1 overall seeded Milwaukee Bucks in a 4-1 gentleman’s sweep. Then came the Boston Celtics for the Conference finals, a slightly more challenging series, with the Heat taking the series 4-2. Two of his memorable accomplishments during the Eastern Playoffs were 32 points and 14 rebounds in game 4 against the Bucks and his astounding block of Jason Tatum in game 1 of the Celtics’ series, considered one of the greatest blocks in NBA playoff history. He definitely had a definitive hand in the Heat’s success in winning the Eastern Conference Championship.

As Eastern Conference champions, the Heat had won the right to play the Lakers for the NBA championship. A majority of analysts and opinionizers basically guaranteed a four-game sweep for the Lakers. Then, two starters, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, went down with injuries in game one. Losing the first two games, the Heat bounced back on Jimmy Butler’s back, in game three, defeating the Lakers 115-104. Bam returned to the court for game four. The Heat won game five and then fell to the Lakers in game 6. Despite a tremendous run for the Heat throughout the whole NBA playoffs, the Lakers won the NBA championship four games to two.

An important aspect of Adebayo’s life takes place off the court. He has established the BAM Foundation to provide support and expand opportunities for single mothers and their children. He has organized youth basketball clinics, funded and supported food drives at Christmas and Thanksgiving, purchased and distributed school supplies both in Miami and in North Carolina, and he has given assistance to victims of natural disasters. He also has a RAK program in which he randomly pays for someone’s groceries or some other need he sees. There are many other ways in which he is providing help to others, but he does not seek public recognition for these deeds; however, in 2019 Bam was awarded the Rising Star in Philanthropy at a recognition ceremony in New York.

Edrice Adebayo is surely a tribute to his schools, his county and his community. He has worked hard to improve his skills in order to be the best basketball player he can be. He has used the profits from his efforts to benefit many people who needed help. While garnering the attention, celebrity and honors achieved through his rise to excellence, this young man has remained true to himself. His strong sense of humility has been noted by his coaches, teammates and many sports’ journalists.

Hopefully Bam will have the opportunity for a long and illustrious career in the NBA. Coaches and others feel that his ceiling for improvement may not even be measurable yet. Whatever his future may bring, Beaufort County should have quite a few years to boast of the performances of this young man who is giving bragging rights to his community, as well as allowing his local fans and former teammates to recall the “remember when” moments while watching him grow into the player he has become. Beaufort County can and should indeed be proud of this young man. Congratulations, Number 13!