Underdog Aggies unfazed as they face Stanford in first Final Four
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair doesn't want to hear any Cinderella stories about his team, which plays in its first Final Four on Sunday.
"This team has earned its way here," said Blair, whose Aggies will take on No. 1 seed Stanford on Sunday. "We've done it the hard way."
No one has taken a harder path here than Blair's post player, Danielle Adams. Adams definitely qualifies as Cinderella, blossoming this year from unfavorable circumstances to reach the highest level.
The senior was named to the State Farm All-American team on Saturday morning. She should be drafted in the first round of the WNBA draft on April 11.
"All the hard work has paid for me," Adams said.
Adams is the only junior college transfer playing at the Final Four. And she's overcome not just background, but body-type. She had to drop 40 pounds off her 6-foot-1 frame, and work her way into shape.
"She's an interesting player, in that maybe if you went to the gym and were kind of shooting around you might not say, 'This is who I want on my team,'" said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "She's maybe not the most athletic-looking player."
But don't be fooled by first impressions, with Adams or with her team. The Aggies are overwhelming underdogs to Stanford, a team that's in its fourth consecutive Final Four and the only team to defeat UConn in the past three seasons. But A&M toppled top-seed Baylor and Brittney Griner in the Dallas Regional final, despite having lost three previous meetings with the Bears.
The Aggies are on a roll. Blair likes his team's chances against Stanford, calling them both complete teams.
"The only thing we've got better than them," Blair said, "[is] I like my yell leaders a lot better than that tree that walks around."
The Aggies have a pestering, pressing guard duo of "the Sydneys" -- Colson and Carter -- who forced Baylor into 20 turnovers. The team creates an average of 22 turnovers a game.
And after battling with Griner four times this season, Adams is unfazed by Stanford's intimidating post presence of Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Kayla Pedersen.
"We played against tough post players in the Big 12," Adams said. "I've played against many great post players."
Adams -- a fan favorite for her effusive play and recognizable braids died blond at the tips -- is built like a linebacker. But she plays -- at times -- like a nimble guard. She can be both an immovable force inside and an agile shooter from the outside. She can shoot the three-pointer (30 percent from the field) and learned to arch a shot over Griner -- something that could help her against Pedersen and Ogwumike who, she says, "are regular size post players."
She hears the comparisons to Charles Barkley, "all the time. If I don't hear it from anybody else I hear it from coach Blair."
Adams takes it as a compliment, though she says she's not as funny as the Round Mound of Rebound. She lets her chatty teammates -- like the Sydneys, -- take center stage.
"I'm the quiet one," Adams said.
But now she's adjusting to the spotlight. Coming out of high school in Kansas City, Adams signed with Missouri but didn't qualify academically. She went to Jefferson College, where she became a junior college All-American. But, the second time around, she still didn't get much notice from Division I coaches, a slight that she believes was because she weighed around 280 pounds.
"I think the weight problem was a big issue," Adams said. "Other coaches didn't believe I could lose it. A&M trusted me. I knew I could do it. I showed the other coaches they were wrong and now maybe they wish they had recruited me."
They probably do. Adams has become a force, averaging 22.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game -- despite limited play at this level.
"We've only had her for about 18 months," Blair said. "She's done what it's taken to be able to play our style of ball. She could have gone to other schools that played more of a half-court game."
But a year ago, Adams couldn't keep up. She pulled a hamstring, which limited her much of last season. And she couldn't play close to 40 minutes a game.
"There was so much pressure on her to lose weight," Carter said. "Coach Blair put a lot of pressure on her. She has a die-hard attitude."
Adams, who cheerfully doesn't mind discussing the topic that's usually verboten in women's sports, said she lost the weight through hard work, making better choices and avoiding fast food.
"It was hard at first but I got used to it," she said. "I got a lot of encouragement. Coach Blair and my teammates were there for me."
Before Adams, Texas A&M lacked a productive post presence. Adams' development has raised the team to a new level. Her teammates are effusive about her contributions.
"She just makes the game fun and easy for us," Colson said. "In the past, A&M hasn't always had post players that were really efficient scorers. Danielle brought that to our team. She's a tremendous asset. She can step out and shoot the three. She has a midrange game. She can bang it down low and get 'and-ones;' and is an excellent rebounder. She brings physicality to our team and she's an excellent second line of defense. If people get by us, she's there to take the charge. She's a really heady player."
Carter said, "I like the fact that she's an All American, but I think what helps is that she's so unselfish."
A few hours after Adams was named one of the top 10 players in the country, a youth journalist asked her to name her biggest achievement in her career.
"Just playing with these girls and getting to this point with them," Adams said. "Just being an asset to this team."
She's Texas A&M's biggest asset. And Sunday, she'll lead them in their biggest game.