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January 16, 2013

Alvan Adams was one of a kind for OU

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There are a couple things you need to know about Alvan Adams.

1) He is one the best Oklahoma men’s basketball player in the program’s 106-year history. 2) He’s as meticulous as he is articulate, as enlightening as he is warm and as easily entertained as a wet otter is caught.

All of these traits were made apparent during halftime of Oklahoma men’s basketball’s exhibition earlier this season against Central Oklahoma. Adams towered above three sportswriters in a hallway inside McCasland Field House and fondly reminisced about his playing days in a manner most athletes don’t.

Adams described the items that stuck out to him at remodeled McCasland. The lights seemed brighter and the faces on the wall, foreign.

Yet he knows all about the bleachers.


“I’m looking at the undercarriage of the bleachers,” Adams said. “I’m looking at the type of the seats -- I know they’re Hussey(Seatway) Intergra seats. Boring stuff that no one else cares about, but I’m looking at that.”

Today, Adams is the Suns’ vice president of facility management, and he takes his work with him -- even on vacation.

Jerry Vest remembers Adams taking out his phone to show him pictures of things Adams found interesting while on a trip to Europe with his wife. Many were of the usual attractions you’d expect a tourist to photograph.

“But also on this phone, because he does what he does, were literally hundreds of pictures of seats and arenas and chairs and areas they had staging for supplies and seating for special events,” former OU teammate Vest said. “All of these photographs he’d taken with such detail. Whatever he does, he’s involved in totally.”

Adams didn’t talk about breaking the school record for most rebounds (28) in a game against Indiana State in 1972 -- a record that still stands today. (He’s also third all-time on that list with 28 boards against Iowa State in 1975.) He didn’t bring up becoming a two-time All-American in three years.

It was simple modernity that impressed him.

“Today we have the nice portable baskets,” Adams said. “Back then we had the baskets attached to the balcony at the south end, and how was it attached at the north end? It must have gone way up into the rafters and back to the back walls.”

He didn’t talk about how crazy life became for him when he was projected to be a top-5 NBA draft pick -- and eventually would be taken fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 1975 draft -- or averaging a double-double for his collegiate career.

What Adams remembered most had little do with actually playing basketball. His fondest memories centered around enjoying his time as a student-athlete.

“I remember playing the games -- that was my craft at the time,” Adams said. “But I remember coming to wrestling matches. We had some really good teams back then. I remember coming to gymnastics meets. Of course football was big.”

He gave basketball as much attention as was necessary. Nothing more, nothing less.

For a player like him, that was enough.

By the end of his junior season, Adams had become Oklahoma’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He averaged 26.6 points and 13.3 boards per game in 1975 en route to becoming Big Eight Player of the Year.

“I was amazed at how athletic he was running the floor because back in those days if you’re 6-9, you’re not very coordinated,” said Mike McCurdy, a former OU teammate of Adams’. “Alvan could run the floor. He could dribble it. He could shoot it from outside.”

Adams was named NBA Rookie of Year in the 1976 and led the Suns to the NBA Finals during the ’76 season. After 13 seasons with Phoenix, he retired as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

If you ask his teammates, these were the kind of accolades they thought Adams was capable of from the first time they saw him with a ball in his hands in August of 1972, but that didn’t mean Adams didn’t have quirks.

There are stories of Adams’ athleticism, sure. His roommate and teammate at OU, Bob Pritchard, can tell you a few. Like this one:

“He could jump onto the top bunk without using his hands,” Pritchard said. “It was almost like a high jump. Everyone else would clang their hip into the bed post.”

There are also tales of mischief. Like this one:

Adams and Pritchard were a part of a party that decided to see a horror film called “The Exorcist” when it debuted in 1973. They’d all heard about how terribly scary it was, so they decided seeing the movie during the day was courageous enough.

Later that night, folks made all kinds of scary noises -- door scratching, shrieking howls -- at the dorm, but Adams and Pritchard didn’t participate.

“I thought that was the end of it,” Pritchard said. “The next night, Alvan and I slept on bunk beds. I was on the bottom bunk.”

It was getting late, and Pritchard told Adams he was going to go to bed. Adams said he’d stay up to study, which was a common occurrence for Adams, a two-time Academic All-American.

What Pritchard didn’t know was Adams had stuck the hallway vacuum cleaner under Pritchard’s bunk bed during the day. Adams waited for Pritchard to fall asleep, and then flipped the vacuum cleaner switch.

“This unbelievable noise is going off, and I had no idea what it is and I’m yelling for Alvan,” Pritchard said. “And then I realized when I hit the light, I see that cord. That was probably the best one he put on me. I got a little mad.”

Pranks were a part of life with Adams. While none of his pranks were malicious or violent, he did have a way of agitating his teammates as well as opposing players, especially when he was bored during practice or a game.

“He had to have something to keep him challenged,” Vest said. “If their athletic ability didn’t do that, then he’d play mental games with them. In practice, he’d put a ball behind your head and fake a pass. If he was on offense, he was a great assist guy and you really had to be alert, or he’d hit you in the face with a pass.”

Adams’ mind was constantly in motion, soaking up knowledge and looking for someone who could teach him something new.

“You can pretty much talk about anything with Alvan,” Pritchard said. “He knows something about it, or if he doesn’t know something about it he’s always asking questions about it to find out more about it.”

Adams majored in letters at OU, a discipline requiring study in history, literature, philosophy and foreign language. The major has aptly been described as a thinking person’s major.

“Yep, that would be Alvan,” Pritchard said.

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