Edrice “Bam” Adebayo certainly has big shoes to fill at Kentucky.
He has to follow John Calipari’s superstar big men at Kentucky such as DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns from the past. That’s if he wants to be considered a success.
While the 6-10, 260-pound freshman standout hasn’t gotten as much attention as the two UK high-flying rookie stars De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Bam has been fairly solid in manning the frontline for the Wildcats.
Going into this week’s action, the prep McDonald’s All-American from North Carolina is among the leading rebounders in the SEC, ranking No. 4 with an average of 8.0 rebounds. He is also averaging 12.6 points (fourth highest on the squad) and has blocked a team-high 18 shots.
Also, in the latest 2017 mock NBA draft, Adebayo is rated No. 20 (behind No. 6 Fox and No. 9 Monk), according to NBADraft.net.
In Kentucky’s 96-73 win over Hofstra this past Sunday, Adebayo was competitive against 6-9, 260-pound junior Rokas Gustys, who is country’s top rebounder with a 13.0 average. Adebayo grabbed seven rebounds and hit 14 points in 25 minutes (as compared to Gustys’ eight rebounds and 13 points). The Wildcat big man also reached a double-figure scoring for the seventh straight time.
“Bam only gets seven rebounds in a game like this, but he was fighting like crazy to try to keep that kid (Gostys) away from the ball,” said Calipari. “But their big guy, who led the country in rebounding, got eight rebounds, too.”
Kentucky’s mentor, though, has been pleased with the play by Adebayo and the other freshmen so far this young season.
“Bam, you’re just seeing him come into his own. You just see it game to game,” said Calipari. “I think they’re doing fine.”
A preseason All-American, Adebayo – who has started all 10 games — had his best game against UCLA at Rupp Arena recently. He had career-highs 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Bruins.
Along with 6-9 forward Wenyen Gabriel, Adebayo tends to foul more often than their teammates even though the UK duo have not fouled out yet this season.
Adebayo – who picked UK over N.C. State, Auburn and Kansas in November 2015 — said he has been adjusting to the college game.
“Keeping my hands high and trying not to foul and getting into the flow of the pace,” he explained.
Before the current season began, his one of his goals was to expand his shooting range.
“I’m just working on my whole offense,” he said. “I don’t want to be one-dimensional. I want my shot to be there, too.”
Adebayo also said the rabid Big Blue Nation folks have been “crazy” since he arrived on campus. “When they just sit out there for free tickets (to the Big Blue Madness) to just watch us practice, (it’s crazy). Somebody got married! That’s when I knew it was little over the top.”
UK assistant coach Joel Justus said Adebayo, who was an honor-roll student and a member of the poetry club in high school, is very coachable and really wants to improve his game.
“Bam is one of the first guys to practice every day,” said Justus last week. “He is another guy who wants to get better every day. He asks questions. He is inquisitive. He is a guy that just wants to engage you in any way so that you can help him get better. He is always a guy that is listening.”
“When you first get to know him, he’s a very bright kid and that is the thing that I, and we as a staff, have been the most impressed with him – how much he wants to learn, how great he listens and how much he wants to improve every day.”
And it’s almost scaring to think how much better Adebayo can be.
“I think he is a guy that, like I said, is in there with Kenny (Payne). Cal is working with him,” added Justus. “He asks everybody questions. He comes by the office. He just wants to be around. For someone that age, that shows tremendous maturity on his part.”
“If he keeps that up, he is going to go further than any of us can limit right now. By just putting one thing that he can improve, he is going to be that guy – like some of the guys we have here – that just goes beyond and you just go, ‘Holy cow.’ ”
Adebayo has a fascinating childhood story. When the Kentucky forward was a very young child learning to walk, he somehow flipped a coffee table while his mother was watching “The Flintstones” cartoon. That’s how Adebayo earned his nickname, “Bam.”
Asked about the pressure of following the former UK big men and current NBA standouts Cousins, Davis and Towns, Adebayo said that’s not a problem.
“It’s always been pressure with me,” he commented. “I’ve always wanted to be the best I can be so it’s not just because of them, it’s because of me personally.”
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.