LOS ANGELES -- That Jordan Adams has become one of UCLA's best weapons on offense should come as no surprise. Adams in the role of defensive stopper, however, raises some eyebrows.
It would have been a stretch before the season to peg Adams as one of UCLA's top defenders, but that's exactly what he has become. Coach Ben Howland uses Adams to guard the opposing team's top wing player each game and Adams has held his own against such top scorers as California's Allen Crabbe, Washington's C.J. Wilcox and Arizona's Mark Lyons.
Adams, a 6-foot-5 freshman swingman, came out of Oak Hill Academy with the labels of shooter, marksman and scorer, but has emerged as a more complete player than anyone could have guessed, and he continues to develop.
"In high school, people called me a lazy defender or someone who doesn't really play defense," Adams said. "I've been working on it so hard since I got here. People know Coach Howland as a defensive coach, and he's helped me with a lot of techniques and I've improved my nose for the ball and being able to get steals and stops."
Adams leads the Bruins (20-7, 13-3) with 53 steals, routinely using savvy, smarts and guile to overcome a lack of athleticism in defending opponents. He gets his body in the correct positions and has quick hands he uses to poke balls loose.
"It's a real big surprise, but some people just have a nose for keeping players in front of them, and he's one of the players that does," fellow freshman Kyle Anderson said. "I always thought of him as a scorer, but he's turned into a crafty defender."
Adams is soft-spoken but strong. He grew up in Georgia and played at Virginia's Oak Hill Academy, so he brings an East Coast toughness that has helped him progress as a defender. His play is a major reason UCLA can stay tied with Arizona and Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 with a win over Arizona State on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion.
"He's a tough, hard-nosed guy, and he comes from a great high school program," Howland said. "He does all the little things. He throws his body around. He's not afraid to get in there and bang with people."
Crabbe, the conference's leading scorer, was a combined 16-of-37 (43.2 percent) in two games with Adams defending him. Wilcox, a 36 percent 3-point shooter, was 0-for-6 from beyond the arc against the Bruins, and Lyons had a season-high five turnovers and season-low zero assists against the Bruins.
"I look at it as a huge challenge to stop whoever it is he's putting me on, because that's one of their key players who can contribute to their win," Adams said. "I just try my best to hold them down."
And Adams has turned into a good defensive player without letting his offense suffer. Adams is second on the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game and has shot 59.5 percent over the past four games. He has nine 20-point games and became the first UCLA freshman to score 20 points or more in each of his first four games.
He came to UCLA as part of a heralded freshman class but was probably the most under-the-radar of all of them, with Shabazz Muhammad, Anderson and Tony Parker all receiving higher recruiting rankings and accolades. He said the rankings put a chip on his shoulder as he came to UCLA, and it's easy to argue now that Adams is having the most complete and consistent season of all the freshmen.
"That was motivation," he said of being the fourth Musketeer in the recruiting class. "But not enough to disrupt my team by me trying to do everything by myself. It was just motivation to come out and just work hard and play my game and show what I can do."
Apparently, he can do plenty.