NJ Biz Covers Pro Agents + IPZ Alliance

Baseball agency with Yankee pedigree inks deal with IPZ

By Howard Burns

A full-service professional baseball agency created by offspring of local legends with deep connections to the New York Yankees has formed a strategic link with Warren-based strategic agency IPZ, the companies announced Tuesday.

Pro Agents Inc., headquartered in Woodbridge, was established in 1995 by Major League Baseball agents David Pepe and Billy Martin Jr. Over the past 23 years, Pepe and Martin have combined to negotiate more than $200 million in contracts.

Pepe is the son of the late baseball writer Phil Pepe, who covered sports in New York for more than five decades, including several as the beat writer covering the Yankees for The New York Daily News. Martin is the son of the former Yankees second baseman and five-time manager Billy Martin.

Among the players the agency has represented or currently represents are six-time MLB All-Star reliever Joe Nathan, former MLB pitcher Carl Pavano, current Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tom Koehler and 2016 first-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels, Matt Thaiss.

Specialists in contract negotiation and off-field management, Pro Agents will receive support from IPZ with public relations and marketing opportunities for current and former baseball clients. In addition, IPZ, through its network of coaches and sports contacts, will refer baseball players to Pro Agents for representation. Pepe, a member of the New Jersey Bar, will also be available to assist with other contracts for IPZ athletes.

“I had the pleasure of working with Dave’s father, the great sportswriter Phil Pepe of the Daily News, and covering Billy‘s dad, the former Yankee manager, during my days as a sportswriter,” said IPZ Founder Robert Zito in a statement. “I’ve followed Dave’s career and am thrilled we will now have the opportunity to work together. Pro Agents has the same family philosophy and commitment to integrity that IPZ has. Together, we will provide a trusted resource for players and their families.”

IPZ is a management, representation and consulting company aligned with public relations and marketing communications Zito Partners, also based in Warren.

View the story on NJBiz here.

Pro Agents Forms Strategic Alliance with IPZ

Baseball Agency Teams Up with Sports and Entertainment Agency

WOODBRIDGE, NJ, and WARREN, NJ, June 12, 2018Pro Agents, Inc., a full-service professional baseball agency, has formed a strategic alliance with IPZ, the companies announced today.

Pro Agents was established in 1995 by Major League Baseball (MLB) agents David Pepe and Billy Martin, Jr. Over the past 23 years, Pepe and Martin, Jr., combined, have negotiated more than $200 million in contracts. Among the players the agency has represented or currently represents are 6-time MLB All-Star Joe Nathan, former MLB pitcher Carl Pavano, current Dodgers’ pitcher Tom Koehler, and Angels’ 2016 first round pick Matt Thaiss.

Known for its expertise in sophisticated contract negotiation and shrewd off-field management, Pro Agents will receive support from IPZ with public relations and marketing opportunities for current and former baseball clients.  In addition, IPZ, through its network of coaches and sports contacts, will refer baseball players to Pro Agents for representation.  Mr. Pepe, a member of the New Jersey Bar, will also be available to assist with other contracts for IPZ athletes.

“It is an honor to work with the professionals at IPZ to help us continue to provide the best service available to all Pro Agents’ clients,” said Pro Agents’ David Pepe.

“I had the pleasure of working with Dave’s father, the great sportswriter Phil Pepe of the Daily News, and covering Billy‘s dad, the former Yankee manager, during my days as a sportswriter,” said IPZ Founder Robert Zito. “I’ve followed Dave’s career and am thrilled we will now have the opportunity to work together. Pro Agents has the same family philosophy and commitment to integrity that IPZ has. Together, we will provide a trusted resource for players and their families.”

About IPZ: IPZ represents clients in sports, media, and entertainment, providing management, contract negotiations, consulting, public relations and marketing communications support. The company, an alliance with Zito Partners, is built on the integrity of its professionals, maintains a family focus, and provides whole life solutions for its clients. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

New Zealand Breakers’ New Marketing Effort Tips Off

IPZ and Zito Partners to Assist

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND and WARREN, NJ, June 5, 2018 – The New Zealand Breakers, a professional basketball team that competes in the National Basketball League (NBL), Australia’s top-league, has teamed up with IPZ and Zito Partners (ZP) to assist in its branding and marketing efforts.

The New Zealand Breakers organization was founded in 2003 and has made seven NBL playoff appearances, winning four NBL Championships (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015) in the club’s 15 seasons of existence. With its home in Auckland, the Breakers are the only non-Australian team competing in the NBL.

According to a 2016-17 study by Nielsen Sports Research, the Breakers have more than 107,000 fans with 90% being likely to attend a game.

In February 2018, former NBA player Matt Walsh and his business partners Adam Goodman, Romie Chaudhari, Dan Katz, and NBA All-Star Shawn Marion became the Breakers’ majority stakeholders.

“We couldn’t be more excited about this partnership,” said NZ Breakers’ Matt Walsh. “IPZ and Zito Partners have worked with top brands and businesses across all industries and we look forward to working closely to take the Breakers to the next level.”

“Matt and his young ownership group are bringing NBA excitement to the NBL,” said IPZ and Zito Partners’ founder Robert Zito. “This is a dynamic group of professionals who will energize Auckland, the NBL and its sponsors and fans. We’re thrilled to be part of the team.”

About New Zealand Breakers: The New Zealand Breakers are an Auckland, New Zealand-based professional basketball team that competes in the Australian National Basketball League. For more information, visit www.nzbreakers.basketball.

About IPZ: IPZ represents clients in sports, media, and entertainment, providing management, contract negotiations, consulting, public relations and marketing communications support. The company, an alliance with Zito Partners, is built on the integrity of its professionals, maintains a family focus, and provides whole life solutions for its clients. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs. For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.

ART EDMONDS SELECTS IPZ

Media + Entertainment Group to Represent TV Host

WARREN, NJ, May 7, 2018 – Art Edmonds, co-host of “Military Makeover,” has signed with IPZ, the company announced today.

Edmonds is a TV host and spokesperson with more than 17 years of experience. He is, currently, best known as the co-host of the TV show “Military Makeover” which airs nationally on Lifetime.

Nat Geo Wild has utilized Edmonds’ voiceover talents for two of its series “Swamp Men” and “Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER.” Edmonds was the narrator for the top-rated series “Swamp Men” for three seasons and seasons one and two of “Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER.” He was also the narrator of docu-drama series “Plane Xtreme” on The Weather Channel.

Moreover, Edmonds’ voiceover credits include national spots on CBS, CNN, TBS, and TLC, as well as block promos and TV and radio commercials including a Proactiv + spot. He also voiced “Dog Whisperer: Family Edition,” “Expedition Wild,” and “Outback Adventures with Tim Faulkner” as part of Litton’s Weekend Adventure, a programming block featured in national ABC and CW Network syndication. Currently, Edmonds is the daily network image announcer for CBS affiliate WDBJ7 Roanoke.

The multi-faceted Edmonds has live TV experience as he appeared on the “Morning Blend” and “Great Day Tampa Bay” when he was the Tampa Bay, FL spokesperson for 50 Floor. He has also been a guest on QVC, HSN, and The Shopping Channel Canada representing the ZeroWater filter pitcher. Edmonds was the national TV spokesperson and voice for ZeroWater for four years.

“We are thrilled that Art Edmonds has joined the IPZ family,” said IPZ Managing Director of Media + Entertainment Patricia Stark. “In his Military Makeover host role, Art shares his big heart and soul with veterans, their families and the viewers at home. Art possesses a wonderful combination of approachability, credibility and fun.”

Watch Edmonds’ demo here.

About IPZ: IPZ represents clients in sports, media, and entertainment, providing management, contract negotiations, consulting, public relations and marketing communications support. The company, an alliance with Zito Partners, is built on the integrity of its professionals, maintains a family focus, and provides whole life solutions for its clients. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs. For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.

Alexey Oleynik Talks to Fightful About UFC 224

By James Lynch

Alexey Oleynik is stepping foot in the Octagon again at UFC 224, facing Junior Albini in a heavyweight division affair.

The heavyweight is coming off of a controversial fight against Curtis Blaydes at UFC 217, but Oleynik believes he needs to win a few fights to get a rematch.

“I’m actually not seeing this (fight happening again) so soon…so fast, if I beat one or two fighters, then maybe this is worth mention. Not now, maybe one or two fights and I win these fights,” says Oleynik in an exclusive interview with Fightful’s James Lynch.

Blaydes became only the second fighter to defeat Oleynik in his UFC run, with that other competitor being Daniel Omielnanczuk.

Oleynik plans on getting back on track at UFC 224 and the fighter wants to do that by choking out Junior Albini in his native Brazil.

“Either Oleynik doing the choke or Albini doing the knockout, I think there are only two variants (for how the fight will end),” says Oleynik.

UFC 224 takes place on Saturday, May 12 from the Jeunesse Arena in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil with Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington headlining. Fightful is providing live coverage of the event, with a post-show podcast to follow.

View story on Fightful.

NJ Biz Picks Up The Pearl

By Howard Burns

Basketball Hall of Famer and former New York Knicks star Earl “The Pearl” Monroe has signed for representation with IPZ, the management, representation and consulting company aligned with Warren-based public relations and marketing communications Zito Partners, the company announced.

The 1968 NBA Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star has spent more than 30 years in the entertainment industry, with projects ranging from off-Broadway musicals to running his own record and publishing company. He also won the Peabody Award for producing the critically acclaimed documentary “Black Magic.” Monroe also does TV and radio commentary for the Knicks.

Additionally, Monroe is a motivational speaker and has written two books: “Earl the Pearl, My Story,” published in 2013, and “Getting Back in the Game,” a self-help book that is soon to be published.

Monroe has been a spokesperson for companies including Emblem HealthRemy MartinAmerican Heart AssociationBoehringer-Ingelheim, and most recently, Merck, where he led an award-winning campaign called “Diabetes Restaurant Month.”

“Class is the word that describes Earl,” said IPZ Managing Partner Robert Zito in a statement. “From his days on the court, to his family life, to helping his community and representing brands, ‘The Pearl’ is the class of class when it comes to ambassadors representing brands.”

View on NJ Biz.

FIVE BASKETBALL PLAYERS CHOOSE IPZ

Collegiate Standouts to be Represented by IPZ

WARREN, NJ, April 26, 2018 – Five basketball players – Avry Holmes (Santa Cruz Warriors), Donte Clark (Texas Southern University), Jonathan Mulmore (Georgetown University), Keith Carter (Valparaiso University), and J’Kyra Brown (University of Virginia) – have signed with IPZ.

Avry Holmes completed his rookie campaign with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G-League in late March. The 6’2 point guard and Clemson University product saw action in 43 games with the Warriors. Holmes averaged 19.6 minutes, 6.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game and shot 38.9% from beyond the three-point line.

Watch Holmes’ highlights from the 2017-18 season here.

Donte Clark led the Texas Southern Tigers to their first ever NCAA Tournament win this past season. In the First Four, Clark scored 18 points and secured 7 rebounds as the Tigers defeated NC Central. Throughout his collegiate career, the 6’4 Clark has been utilized as a swingman, and in the 2017-18 season, he averaged 18.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.

Watch Clark’s highlights from the 2017-18 season here.

Jonathan Mulmore was a staple in Georgetown’s starting lineup, under Patrick Ewing’s leadership, during his senior year. Mulmore played the point for the Hoyas and led the team in assists. He stands at 6’4 and averaged 5.6 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.1 rpg, and connected on 46.9% of his three-point field goal attempts. The Hoya participated in the 2018 OAL Invitational and was named the MVP.

Keith Carter played collegiately at Valparaiso University and led the Crusaders in assists per game as both a junior (3.7) and a senior. The 6’0 point guard and posted a stat line of 10.3 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.3 rpg, and shot 39.4% from beyond the arc in his senior season. Carter was selected to the 2018 All-OAL Invitational Team.

Watch Carter’s highlights here.

J’Kyra Brown finished out her college career at Virginia this past season and appeared in all 33 games. The 5’11 guard averaged 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game as a senior. Brown finished with 131 made three-pointers in her career as a Hokie, this tied her with Dawn Staley for 10th most in UVA history.

Watch Brown’s 2017-18 season highlights here.

About IPZ: IPZ represents clients in sports, media, and entertainment, providing management, contract negotiations, consulting, public relations and marketing communications support. The company, an alliance with Zito Partners, is built on the integrity of its professionals, maintains a family focus, and provides whole life solutions for its clients. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs. For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.

EARL MONROE JOINS IPZ

NBA Legend Signs with IPZ for Representation

WARREN, NJ, April 24, 2018 – Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Hall of Fame basketball player, has signed with IPZ, the company announced today.

The 1968 NBA Rookie of the Year, four-time NBA All-Star (1969, 1971, 1975, 1977), and 1973 NBA World Champion began his basketball legacy as a collegiate senior when he led Winston-Salem State College to a National Championship in 1967 while averaging 41.7 points per game. That same year, Monroe was selected second overall in the NBA Draft by the Baltimore Bullets.

“The Pearl” enjoyed a 13-year career in the NBA and played with the Bullets from 1967-1971 until he was traded to the New York Knickerbockers. Monroe joined fellow Hall of Famer Walt Frazier and the pair was named the “Rolls Royce Backcourt.” Together, Monroe and Frazier led the Knicks to victory in the 1973 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Philly native retired from the NBA in a Knicks uniform in 1980. In 1989, Monroe was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Eight years later, Monroe was voted one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

Outside of basketball, Monroe has spent more than 30 years in the entertainment industry; projects have included producing off-broadway musicals to running his own record and publishing company. He also won the Peabody Award for producing the critically-acclaimed documentary Black Magic, which helped launch ESPN’s famed series 30 for 30. Monroe also does TV and radio commentary for the Knicks.

Additionally, Monroe is also a motivational speaker and has written two books, Earl the Pearl, My Story was published in 2013 and Getting Back in the Game is a self-help book that is soon to be published. He holds two honorary Doctorate Degrees, one from Manhattanville College and the other from his alma mater, Winston-Salem.

Monroe has been a spokesperson for companies such as Emblem Health, Remy Martin, American Heart Association, Boehringer-Ingelheim, and most recently, Merck, where he led an award-winning campaign called “Diabetes Restaurant Month.” “The Pearl” has traveled around the country to deliver the message, to people with type 2 diabetes, of maintaining a healthy diet when eating out.

“Since retiring from the game, it has been a pleasure to assist brands I feel strongly about,” said Monroe.  “And now, developing concepts for brands, while keeping my hand in the music and film industries, has been a great “Overtime” opportunity I cherish.”

“Class is the word that describes Earl,” said IPZ Managing Partner Robert Zito. “From his days on the court…to his family life…to helping his community…and representing brands, “The Pearl” is the class of class when it comes to ambassadors representing brands.”

About IPZ: IPZ represents clients in sports, media, and entertainment, providing management, contract negotiations, consulting, public relations and marketing communications support. The company, an alliance with Zito Partners, is built on the integrity of its professionals, maintains a family focus, and provides whole life solutions for its clients. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs. For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.

Basketball Insiders: Darius Adams, Around the World in Seven Years

CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.

By Ben Nadeau

Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.

Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.

Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.

But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.

*****

Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.

After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.

From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.

“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.

“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”

Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.

Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.

The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.

But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.

“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”

And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.

Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.

“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”

*****

The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.

To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.

Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.

But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.

“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”

It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.

“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”

Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.

“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”

In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.

If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.

“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”

*****

But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.

Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.

“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.

“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”

Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?

Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.

And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.

“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.

“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”

FOX Sits Down with Oleg Prudius

Former WWE Superstar Oleg Prudius (aka Vladimir Kozlov) talks to FOX5NY about who would make him come out of fighting retirement.