(Here's a story that will appear in tomorrow's New Haven Register that focuses on Jeff Adrien and his bond with Paul Epstein, twin brother of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Bet you didn't know Jeff is a moose-hunter, or an avid white-water rafter. Well, at least the white-water rafter part. Read on.)
By David Borges
STORRS --- He’s 6-foot-7, 243 pounds of sheer muscle, one of the physically strongest players in the Big East Conference. He racks up double-doubles on a near-nightly basis, often against bigger, taller opponents. His coach, Jim Calhoun, can’t stop calling him “The Warrior” – a moniker he has proudly sported since his AAU days.
“That’s something I have to keep, that’s what makes me who I am,” UConn junior forward Jeff Adrien said. “I’ve got to keep working even harder every time he calls me a warrior.”
No one would ever question Adrien’s boldness and leadership on the basketball court. But there’s a funny story Paul Epstein loves to tell that illustrates Adrien’s courage – if not, in this case, common sense – outside of the basketball arena and in the deep woods of Maine.
Epstein – the twin brother of Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein – is a social worker at Adrien’s alma mater, Brookline High. When Adrien was a freshman at Brookline, Epstein took him and a bunch of students on an overnight camping trip to Maine, where they stayed in some cabins out in the woods.
“It was probably one of the first times Jeff had been in a rural situation,” said Epstein.
That didn’t stop him from setting out to “hunt” some big game.
“He went hunting in the woods for moose, with just a flashlight,” Epstein recalled with a chuckle. “I don’t know what he was going to do with the flashlight, but that’s all he had. He was leading a party of Brookline youth into the dangerous woods of Maine with just a flashlight.”
A smile spread across Adrien’s face when recently reminded of the story.
“There was nothing out there!” he reported. “It was just dark. We went moose-hunting and never found one. I just wanted to see one.”
Compared to hunting moose armed with nothing more than a flashlight, preying on the Bearcats, Cardinals and Wildcats of the Big East has been a cinch for Adrien, at least lately.
Following Saturday’s 23-point, 11-rebound effort against Georgia Tech, Adrien has reached double-figures scoring in 15 straight games and has notched a dozen double-doubles on the season. His powerful, one-handed dunk early in the second half on Saturday kicked off a 10-0 run that helped spearhead the Huskies’ 80-68 non-conference victory, their seventh straight.
“Jeff’s dunk got us going, got the crowd back in the game,” said Calhoun.
And yet Adrien’s overall performance was overshadowed, once again. Hasheem Thabeet notched career-highs in both scoring (24) and rebounding (15), blocked six shots and dominated the postgame headlines and highlights.
It’s nothing new for Adrien. While Thabeet, the 7-foot-3 center, and junior point guard A.J. Price have – rightfully – been garnering a lot of national attention lately, Adrien has flown a bit under the radar.
“At times he can get overlooked,” Price admitted. “But he's not overlooked by anybody on this team or anybody in this program. We know what type of competitor and warrior he is for us."
Added UConn associate head coach George Blaney: “He’s a very prideful young man. Coach (Calhoun) and the players who have come back have always talked about how, when the team does well, everybody gets noticed. I think Jeff buys into that.”
Apparently, he does.
“As long as we win, everybody’s being seen right now,” said Adrien, who is now 39 points shy of becoming the 40th UConn player to notch 1,000 career points. “It’s all good, really.”A Brookline Bond
Paul Epstein remembers when Adrien first arrived at Brookline High as a somewhat ungainly freshman.
“He was a tall kid, and everyone associated him with basketball,” said Epstein. “By the time he got to high school, his skills set started catching up with his body. That leadership really began to blossom his junior and senior years.”
As a senior, Adrien averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds and guided the Warriors to the Class A Championship game at the Fleet Center, where they lost to Springfield-Commerce. But there was more to Jeff Adrien’s high school experience than just basketball, thanks in no small part to Epstein.
Epstein wasn’t Adrien’s social worker, but he formed a close relationship with Adrien his freshman year. Along with the overnight camping excursion, there was a white-water rafting trip in Kennebunkport, Maine.
“Jeff was so much bigger than all the other kids,” Epstein recalled. “He acted like a kid in a candy store. He insisted on sitting in the front of the boat, so he could catch the most action with the rapids on the river. There’s a picture of Jeff in the front position. He looks like a little kid.”
The trip made a lasting impression on the young Adrien.
“That was one of the greatest times. I’ve tried to make that like my golf. Some people have golf, that’s my golf – white-water rafting, ever since that trip. I loved that trip.”
Adrien and Epstein would go to several Red Sox games together, sardined into Fenway Park’s notoriously small grandstand seats (Epstein is 6-foot-4) while watching the team run by Paul’s twin brother.
Adrien got to know Theo very well, too, often times picking his brain and telling him which players to sign, even attending a New England Patriots game in the luxury suites together (this was before Adrien went to UConn; no O.J. Mayo-type situation to report here).
This past summer, Adrien and Theo Epstein were the guest speakers at an event sponsored A Foundation to be Named Later, the charity foundation run by the Epstein brothers. The foundation has been working to open a community youth center in Brookline, and hundreds of Brookline youths were invited to the Game On restaurant outside of Fenway to hear Theo and Adrien speak.
Many of the kids hailed from the High Street Public Housing development where Adrien grew up – raised by his mother, Linotte, a nurse’s aid and first-generation Haitian-American – and where he is now a huge point of community pride.
“They were pretty much waiting for Theo to get off the stage so they could hear Jeff,” Paul Epstein recalled.
Adrien was, admittedly, nervous. It was the first time he had ever been asked to speak in front of such a large group.
“Those kids, it’s like I kind of grew up with them,” he said. “For me to come up and talk to them was like, ‘Wow.’ It was really a special moment.”
But after fielding a few questions from Paul Epstein, Adrien found his groove.
“He was fantastic,” Epstein said. “He rose to the occasion.”
Jeff Adrien has been doing that a lot lately.