Leader Blues

Friday, April 10, 2009

SPORTS >> Leader Player of the Year: Adam Sterrenberg, Cabot

Leader sports editor

Jerry Bridges came out of the locker room, his eyes red and his voice still quivering with emotion. His Cabot Panthers had just been beaten by Fayetteville in the 7A state semifinals in Fort Smith and he had just held his final post-game locker room gathering with his five senior starters.

With all of that on his mind, and with a bevy of sportswriters gathered around with their recorders at the ready, Bridges was intent on getting one thing cleared up right away.

“Tell whoever that got Adam Sterrenberg’s name wrong in (that day’s edition of Fort Smith’s Southwest Times Record) to learn to read a program, okay?” Bridges said, his voice still quivering, but now with anger. “I mean, guys, he’s one of the best players in the state and you ought to know how to spell his name.”

That might give some indication of just how highly Bridges regards Adam Sterrenberg.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best player in the state,” Bridges said of his leading scorer the past two seasons. “And he’s just a pleasure to coach. Everybody sees what he does on the floor, but he just makes showing up for work fun.”
What Sterrenberg does on the floor numbers can’t quite capture. But they can give an idea. Sterrenberg, who has earned the 2009 Leader Player of the Year award, poured in 23 points a game, dished out three-and-a-half assists, grabbed three-and-a-half rebounds and snagged 2.1 steals.

“He made my job easier, I can tell you that,” Bridges said. “He’ll be missed quite a bit. And not just for his playing but for what kind of kid he is. He has great parents. I love that kid.”

Jerry Bridges’ loss is John Brady’s gain. The Arkansas State head coach signed Sterrenberg last winter to try to fill a scoring and point-guard void. With Sterrenberg, he’ll be getting both.

“When we got here, we identified our top needs,” said Brady, who just completed his first year at the Red Wolves’ helm only three years after taking the LSU Tigers to the Final Four. “We needed a point guard and a guard who could play off the ball, too. Adam can do both.”

But Brady, who lost an able point guard to graduation this season, said he is inclined to play Sterrenberg at the point, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother Sterrenberg a bit. Sterrenberg played point full time his junior season and shared point-guard duties with Seth Bloomberg this season.

“I like playing off guard better,” Sterrenberg said. “Last year (Arkansas State) kind of lacked shooting from what I saw. So I’m hoping I can help out there. But I had to play point guard for the (AAU) Arkansas Wings when (Baylor-bound A.J. Walton) went out, so I’m used to it.

“And that was against some really tough competition. I don’t think it will be too different, really. If I have an open shot, I’ll take it, but I’ll be trying to get other people involved.”

Brady said that, in not just his offense but in just about everybody’s offense in the modern day game, point guards have to be a scoring threat.

“The way people are guarded these days, he needs to be a scorer as well as a point guard,” Brady said. “Our point last year was good, but people started backing off of him.”

You back off of Sterrenberg at your own peril. Guarding him too closely runs its own risks, as well. That wasn’t always the case, Sterrenberg said. Before this season, his scoring was mostly limited to three-point shooting and drives to the basket. This year, he developed a mid-range game, making him even more lethal.

“Coach Bridges worked with me a lot on that and it’s really helped out a lot,” he said.

But what may make Sterrenberg most effective – beyond his deadly perimeter shooting, beyond his talent for getting to the rim and finishing – is his ability to create his own shot. He requires little space to launch it and his accuracy is only marginally diminished when on the move or when well guarded.

If you were at the Russellville game at Panther Pavilion on Jan. 30, that needs no further explanation. Cabot was down nine late in the game and in danger of falling to 2-3 in the conference race. That’s when Sterrenberg demonstrated that, guard him as much as you like, if he’s on, you’re in trouble. Over the final four minutes and 55 seconds of that contest, Sterrenberg rained in 22 points, which included 17 points over the final two minutes and 20 seconds. Cabot won the game to launch a 13-game winning streak.

After the game, Russellville’s coach said his players were coming up to him and saying, ‘What do you want me to do? I’m guarding him.’

“It felt like everything I put up was going in,” he said. “That’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever felt. I loved that feeling. I wish it would happen more often, to be honest.”

It happened often enough. Maybe not on that same Superman level, but on a level seldom seen at the high school level. Over seven games, beginning with the Russellville outburst, Sterrenberg averaged 28 points.

Bridges said Sterrenberg’s biggest improvement from his sophomore to his senior year was strength.

“He could do everything he wanted as a sophomore,” he said. “But lack of strength kind of held him back.”

The 6-3 Sterrenberg said he hopes to put on about 25 pounds of muscle.

“He needs to get stronger,” Brady said. “But we’ll provide him with an opportunity to do that with our program. Defensively, he’s going to have to become a little more aggressive, but that comes with strength.”

Bridges, who first became aware of Sterrenberg when Bridges’ son, Jack, was playing AAU ball in the 8th grade, said Sterrenberg deserves everything he’s getting because he puts so much hard work into his game. He said he knew from the start that Sterrenberg was ambitious and had a goal of playing college basketball.

ASU, he added, has gotten a good one.

“With the ball in his hands, Adam’s the best scorer I’ve ever had,” Bridges said. “He’s got a knack for scoring, even when his shot isn’t falling. If you look at him, you might not think he could do the things he does, but his hard work is the reason he’s getting all the accolades.

“Arkansas State is getting a steal.”