The Press Newspaper
For most players, reaching the 1,000-point plateau is something that’s done during their senior season while they’re running short of games left to be played.
Cardinal Stritch Catholic guard Austin Adams is making it look easy. Currently at 992 points, Adams is poised to join that elite group of players.
But it’s not the only major record he will have set this year. Adams scored 44 points in a game, breaking the previous single-game record of 43 held by Joe Gajdostik.
However, Adams is not concerned with individual accomplishments so much so as he is with how his team finishes.
Currently 8-9 overall and 7-5 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, the Cardinals have experienced their share of ups and downs but are hoping to right the ship as they head into the stretch run.
The rotation primarily consists of seven players. Joining the 6-foot-5 Adams in the backcourt is junior point guard Chris Blazevich, who is 6-1. The rest of the starting lineup consists of three seniors, 6-1 Jake Empie at small forward and Brooks Gasser (6-2) and Karl Zacharias (6-3) in the post. The primary reserves off the bench are two juniors, 5-10 guard Brandon Payeff and 6-2 G/F Joe Sinay.
After starting the year 5-3 (4-1 TAAC), the Cardinals hit a rough patch, losing six consecutive games, though every setback came to a team that is faring well in their conference. The combined record of all six opponents is 84-21 (.800).
However, Stritch has recovered to win three straight and, with three games remaining and has a chance to build some momentum heading into the postseason.
“We’ve been so inconsistent,” said Coach David Rieker, a 1983 graduate of the University of Toledo. “The great thing is (the kids) play very, very hard. We just keep making the same mistakes over and over. We’ve played really hard over the past few games and that’s a plus.
“We played really well against Ottawa Hills the first time and just broke down at the end. We’ve gotten better, the kids got better. I think once the kids understand things, we’ll just need to pull out a big win for them to believe. They’re one of the better teams we’ve ever had.”
Rieker played basketball at UT and was part of two Mid-American Conference title teams (’80, ’81), including one that qualified for the NCAA tournament.
Despite his team’s disappointments this season, Rieker has helped rebuild the program and has seen an increase in victories in his first three seasons. He is proud of the effort his players put forth.
“The kids are believing in the system,” he said. “The kids want to win. They’re not just showing up. I’m from the old school of (former UT coach) Bobby Nichols where you hate losing at chess. You have to instill that mentality. Each summer, the commitment has been better and better. I tell the kids to appreciate everything you have because it goes so quick.”
Although Adams leads the league in scoring (19.8) and rebounding (8.3) this season, it hasn’t come without setbacks. He has had to take a leadership role. Having lost five seniors, including three starters, from last year’s 13-11 squad, the onus on him to serve as the offensive catalyst is even greater.
“The hard thing for Austin is understanding that with everyone gunning for him, you’re going to have to work 10 times harder,” said Rieker. “He works hard in practice. Hopefully, he just keeps on working. When you’re a marked man, it’s harder.”
Another challenge Adams deals with is changing between playing the post and on the perimeter. He does it constantly throughout any game.
“It’s difficult to play in the post all game and then come out and try to hit a three or jumper because you’re so used to post and also getting doubled in the post, but that creates kick outs for the rest of the team. I try to make it so that I move around a lot so (opponents) have to keep an eye on me.”
The team employs a four-out, one-in motion offense.
“We changed to that halfway through the season,” Adams said. “I guess you could say that’s our base. It frees everyone up by having us all move. We try to wear down the defense and keep them on their toes at all times.”
Rieker also wants his players to understand that playing well on defense can also create opportunities for them offensively.
“If we have to take the ball out of the basket every time, you don’t get much of a flow,” he said. “If you can create some turnovers, get some quick shots, it gets you in a flow and in a rhythm. If you move the ball, reverse, you might get the ball again and might be able to make (the shot).”
The silver lining in all of the Cardinals’ struggles this season may have been their 49-41 loss to Ottawa Hills, which has a front line of 6-foot-9, 6-7, and 6-7. In that game, Stritch held a 37-30 lead midway thru the fourth quarter before things fell apart and the Green Bears, the fifth-ranked team in Division IV, rallied for the win.
Should the Cardinals defeat North Baltimore in the tournament opener, they’ll get a chance to face Ottawa Hills in the sectional final.
Besides being a great player, Adams is a model student.
“With his ability to play the game, he’s definitely helped the basketball program,” athletic director Craig Meinzer said. “The fact that he chose to come here and gets recruited by colleges is huge. — the publicity we get is huge. He’s made the other players around him better. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Meinzer also speaks highly of Adams as a person.
“(Austin) a good all-around kid,” Meinzer said. “He does a lot of things the right way. We don’t have any problems with him grade-wise. He’s buying into the faith-based (system) in the school and there are no issues with his integrity and character.”
The feeling is mutual with Adams, a Northwood resident.
“It’s been an adventure,” he said. “I’ve loved every moment at Stritch. The Catholic experience is great.”
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