Heres the thing you need to know about Jeff Adrien: Nothing about having to keep proving he belongs is new to him.
Generally NBA players on the fringe were stars somewhere in college. So it can be a shock that sustaining a career at basketballs top level isnt a natural extension of excelling in college.
Adrien, at least temporarily the Charlotte Bobcats backup center, is different. At 6-foot-7 he wasnt supposed to be Connecticuts senior big man when point guard Kemba Walker was a Huskies freshman. So he sure wasnt destined to be a contributor to the Bobcats now that Walker stars in Charlotte.
Hes hungry, Walker described. Hes all about work. Hes always outworked everyone.
Of late Adrien has imposed himself on the Bobcats (6-6), making a difference with Al Jefferson injured with various ankle ailments. Jefferson might be back Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, and if so, Adriens minutes might dry up.
But Adrien jumped in so effectively that he not Bismack Biyombo, the seventh pick in 2011 has been finishing games in Jeffersons absence. In the second half Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets, when the Bobcats built a 16-point lead, Adrien played 16½ minutes, Biyombo 7½. Adrien finished the game with 10 rebounds, seven points and a block.
A month ago, during training camp, Adrien seemed in jeopardy of being cut, since he is on a nonguaranteed contract.
The word physicality comes up constantly when Bobcats coach Steve Clifford talks about Adrien. Clifford is big on the idea of players sticking to what they do best during the season, while broadening their skill sets in the summer. Adrien seems a prime example.
Hes undersized, and hes not going to be a back-in scorer, Clifford described. But hes quick, strong and tough as nails. When he gets away from that, hes not as good.
Adrien says hes taken that to heart, not just because its his bosses agenda, but because it makes sense.
There are things hes been very specific about with me. Things I know Im good at, said Adrien, who has played parts of four NBA seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Bobcats.
Thats definitely helped me play better to keep it real simple out there. Just rebound, be tough and finish plays around the hoop. And team defense, of course. Protect that hoop.
Adrien gets a kick out of the fact that years removed from Connecticut, Walker still sees him for what a work ethic can overcome.
The other day he beat me into the gym. Give him credit for that, Adrien said. I learned early-on that hard work often beats talent.
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; @rick_bonnell