Camp leader a giant at 5-foot-4

John Adams, father of the late Winthrop basketball player De'Andre Adams works with campers at Randy Peele's Basketball Camp at the Winthrop Coliseum on Thursday.
John Adams, father of the late Winthrop basketball player De'Andre Adams works with campers at Randy Peele's Basketball Camp at the Winthrop Coliseum on Thursday.

The youngest of all the hundred or more campers learning basketball Thursday could barely get the ball up to the hoop. But a coach at the Randy Peele Winthrop basketball camp who took the time to help all of them stood out.

He wasn't much taller than most campers. Maybe 5 feet, 4 inches. A bit shorter than his own son, who played for Winthrop University on that same Coliseum court, whose picture is up on the concourse, whose No. 24 jersey is retired. The son died last year, and a part of the father died with him.

But that death is exactly why John Adams came to Rock Hill this week to teach basketball, like he coached his son, De'Andre, all those years ago.

De'Andre Adams, a Winthrop point guard whose tiny stature and boundless energy made him the favorite of so many too-short, too-small guys, died in May 2007 after a car crash.

"De'Andre coached at this camp, loved the kids," John Adams said. "The coaches asked if I wanted to come back and help. De'Andre would have wanted me to come back."

John Adams lives outside Atlanta, but has been home only a few weeks from Iraq. He had spent most of the past year not called "coach" like he was by little kids Thursday, but "master sergeant." In the Marine Corps, John Adams was in charge of maintenance for a fleet of helicopter gunships. His diligence and that of the men who worked for him meant Marines lived to come home again. Some were not even 20 years old, the same age his son was when he died.

"All my men came back," Adams said. "I am most proud of that."

So, John Adams did come back to Winthrop this week, where at this same camp last year it was announced the school will endow a yearly De'Andre Adams Memorial Scholarship. On Thursday, John Adams did what camp coaches do. He drilled these wide-eyed little kids, even some campers far taller than he is. He threw them passes and taught them footwork. He had them huddle for quick tips and team cheers. He told them about how important it is to play as a team, to lead by example.

Coming from a master sergeant who just got back from Iraq, and Afghanistan before that, he wasn't talking only about basketball.

John Adams wanted hustle and grit and determination. There is no such thing as too short or too slow or too anything in his life. And at the camp -- this started last summer, too -- there's an award called the De'Andre Adams Sportsmanship Award. The guidelines for winning are not based on skill at shooting or dribbling. The camper who never quits wins.

"The best part of camp" is how Winthrop coach Randy Peele described the award.

The other coaches nominated and chose the winner Thursday. John Adams presented it and thanked all the campers and their parents for allowing him to be a part of their lives like his son was before him.

The winner was not tall, only about as tall as John Adams. Mick Francis, 16, from Clover, who doesn't even play on his basketball team at school. He runs track and cross country. Yet, this week he ran and ran, hustled and dove on the floor and people noticed.

"I'm honored," Francis said.

Then he hugged John Adams.

A couple giants on the court.

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald