Chamique Holdsclaw remembers one thing, above all else, about the NBA career of Michael Adams, her new coach with the Washington Mystics.
"That ugly shot," Holdsclaw said with a smile. "I was amazed at how small he was, and how he could get that shot off. Oh, it was so ugly, but it went in."
That funny-looking, herky-jerky push shot may be the first image that comes to mind when Adams's name is mentioned. But the former Washington Bullet hopes that tonight -- when the Mystics open their WNBA season at home against the Charlotte Sting -- marks the start of a new chapter and a new image, that of a successful coach.
Adams is the Mystics' seventh head coach in as many seasons. He is one of five former NBA players coaching in the WNBA (Detroit's Bill Laimbeer, Los Angeles' Michael Cooper, Indiana's Brian Winters and San Antonio's Dee Brown are the others). This is his first head coaching job at any level, and this is the first time that he has coached women.
"Coaching basketball is coaching basketball," Adams said. "I just thought [coaching] was something in my blood to do. When you're a point guard for 10 or 11 years in the league, you're an extension of the coach. You feel like a coach."
The Mystics are hoping that the same characteristics that the 5-foot-10 guard displayed in his 11-year NBA career will serve him well in his new position as the coach of a team that finished last in the Eastern Conference with a 9-25 record in 2003.
"He's an overachiever," said Judy Holland-Burton, the senior vice president of business and basketball operations for the Mystics. "He wasn't supposed to have success in professional basketball because he was too small. But he always overcame those things. He worked hard. He got the job done. We were very impressed with that."
Adams had a standout high school career in Hartford, Conn., but received virtually no Division I scholarship offers. He ended up at Boston College, where he played for Gary Williams, ended his career as the school's fifth-leading scorer, and had his jersey retired.
"Mike was spectacular at Boston College when he played for me," said Williams, now the coach at Maryland. "I think people tend to overlook his intelligence. When you're 5-10, 5-11, and you're in the NBA, it's more than pure talent. It's intelligence."
He was selected in the third round of the 1985 draft by Sacramento, but was cut after only 18 games. Adams played in the Continental Basketball Association and then hooked on with the Washington Bullets in the summer of 1986. The Bullets cut him in September, re-signed him four days later, re-cut him in October and then re-signed him again three weeks later.
Adams averaged 7.2 points as a reserve for Washington in the 1986-87 season. Then in the offseason, the Bullets traded him to Denver. Adams flourished with the Nuggets, averaging 26.5 points and 10.5 assists per game during the 1990-91 season. He returned to Washington the following year and was named to the all-star team.
"It's happened my whole career, from high school to college to the pros," Adams said. "I didn't get anything handed to me. I always have that frame of mind -- that hard work pays off. I try to prove people wrong. It's no different in this coaching situation."
Adams retired from the NBA in 1996, and put his communications degree to work by becoming a radio and television analyst for the Bullets.
But coaching is what he really wanted to try, and in 1999, he became an assistant with the International Basketball League's Richmond Rhythm. He jumped to the NBA the following year, and worked as an assistant with the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies until the end of the 2001-02 season.
When Marianne Stanley abruptly resigned as the Mystics' head coach in the offseason, Adams, who has lived in the Washington area since 1989, approached the team and requested an interview. He had never coached in the WNBA, but he looked at the success that Laimbeer and Cooper have had in the league, and figured that would help his cause.
"I think it was just a natural progression to get into coaching, to see if I can install a system of my own and make it work."
Adams has installed an up-tempo system, with more pro-style sets and isolations, to take advantage of the skills of Holdsclaw and rookie Alana Beard. He's watched several Maryland practices over the past few years, and cites Williams as one of his influences, along with Paul Westhead and Doug Moe.
He has spent a lot of time watching film, trying to familiarize himself with the personnel in the WNBA. Adams has been a fan of women's basketball; he was a Mystics season ticket holder in 1998, the inaugural season, and watched every home game from his courtside seat.
Linda Hargrove, who spent 26 years as a college coach and then served as the head coach and general manager of the now-defunct Portland Fire for three seasons, is one of Adams's assistants and has been giving him plenty of insight to the league and its players.
"Once Michael has gone through the league, he'll pick stuff up quickly," Hargrove said. "He has already. I think the thing that really sets Michael apart is his ability to communicate with the players."
Adams is 41, but he looks much as he did in his days with the Bullets, except that his goatee is now flecked with gray and he wears longer shorts.
He can still shoot. He proved that at a Wizards game earlier this year, when he was pulled from his courtside seat to take a three-point shot; if he made it, every fan in the arena was in for a free pizza.
"We hadn't made the thing all year," said Rick Moreland, senior vice president of corporate marketing and executive seating for the Wizards and Mystics. "He picked up the ball, did that herky-jerky shot up there without warming up, and it went in. He actually kidded that since he made that shot, maybe we'd look at him for a 10-day contract."
No such luck. Instead, Adams played pickup with Holdsclaw, Stacey Dales-Schuman and other local players after he took the Mystics job. The informal games were a way for Adams to evaluate his players' skills, but often the natural competitor in him came out.
Once, the Mystics invited a player in for a workout, and she wound up having to guard Adams. After the session, Hargrove joked with Adams that she never got a chance to evaluate the player's defensive abilities, because he shot the ball as soon as he crossed mid-court.
"He's still got it," Holdsclaw said of Adams. "He's shooting those long-range threes. But sometimes I have to tell him to chill with that 'And one' stuff."
Adams says that he doesn't plan on entertaining the Mystics with stories from his playing career. He doubts that the players are even aware of his background -- most of them, after all, were in middle school when he was establishing himself as one of the NBA's best three-point shooters.
A few, however, do remember him -- and for something other than that ugly shot.
"I remember him being a really quick guard, a really scrappy guard," Mystics guard Coco Miller said. "He was a little guy out there. It's just very motivating to see someone work so hard like that."
And as for that shot, that's one thing that Adams will not be teaching the Mystics.
"No, you don't want to learn how to shoot like me," Adams said with a laugh. "My mechanics are all wrong. But it worked for me."