Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

SPORTS >> Taking his shot

Leader sports editor

Adam Sterrenberg has a uniform, a role and, lately, some meaningful minutes at Arkansas State.

If any further evidence was needed to prove the freshman from Cabot had arrived in college basketball to stay, it came Thursday at UALR when Sterrenberg got the ultimate compliment — a nickname from hostile fans.

Sterrenberg entered with 12:36 left in the first half and just over a minute later got a rebound and putback for his first points to pull Arkansas State within 18-16 against its Sun Belt Conference rival.

With his mop of brown hair at full flop, Sterrenberg hit a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Red Wolves a 21-20 lead and start a 12-3 run. He got a defensive rebound leading to another Arkansas State basket and was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made 2 of 3 free throws to put the Red Wolves up 29-21 with 7:32 to go.

If the Trojans hadn’t noticed Sterrenberg yet, their fans had.

“Watch Shaggy,” a Trojans rooter hollered from the Stephens Center seats as Sterrenberg, open on the left wing, signaled for a pass that eventually came his way.

Sterrenberg missed that shot, and was pulled in the second half after missing a three-pointer and a short jumper as UALR went on to win 79-77 on Alex Mendoza-Garica’s last-second, 42-foot three-pointer.

But Sterrenberg scored seven points in seven, first-half minutes and had taken another step in his growth as a college player.

“I knew it was going to be a whole lot more up-pace and a lot more physical,” Sterrenberg said, comparing the college game to his previous experience with Cabot in the 7A-Central Conference. “The speed I’m all right with but I need to get stronger to get my game better, but it’s pretty much everything I imagined it to be really.”

Injuries to perimeter players Mike Lance and Donald Boone have moved Sterrenberg up the bench to where he is now one of coach John Brady’s first options when he needs to bring in an outside man.

“The team told me I needed to pick it up and they needed me,” Sterrenberg said. “They had confidence in me and that helps a tremendous amount and I didn’t want to let them down.”

Sterrenberg averaged 22.9 points and five assists a game for Jerry Bridges’ Panthers last year, helping the team to a 23-6 finish and, in a program first, a share of the 7A-Central championship which spring-boarded Cabot to the state semifinals.

Heading into his second year at Arkansas State, Brady, the former Final Four coach at LSU, had no idea of Cabot’s reputation as a high school football powerhouse that rarely produced college-level men’s basketball talent.

Brady only knew Sterrenberg was the kind of player he could use, and made him part of last year’s Red Wolves recruiting class.

“He was a good signing for us and he’s going to be a good player for us too,” Brady said.

Brady said he and his staff scouted Sterrenberg with the high-profile Arkansas Wings AAU program. While Sterrenberg’s introduction to basketball came in driveway games of horse with his four, athletic older sisters, it was in AAU where he began to show signs he might be able to play college ball somewhere.

“We didn’t know if it was going to be D-I or not,” Sterrenberg’s father Dan said. “But we knew at that time, we started playing a lot of AAU ball and we started hearing how these kids, how they started playing against some of the tougher kids in the country. And this D-I guy in Kansas was looking at him and we kind of knew at that time we had a shot because he was playing fairly well.”

Adam cemented his prospect status in his senior year of high school, and attracted recruiters not only from Arkansas State, but also from Sun Belt members UALR and North Texas and Southland Conference member Central Arkansas.

“He can shoot it, he can pass it,” Brady said. “He handles it well, he sees the floor extremely well. I think he’s a very underrated passer. He got labeled in high school as a shooter.”

For Adam, who knew of Brady’s SEC credentials that included six postseason berths, two SEC championships and three West Division titles it was love at first sight with Arkansas State.

“I knew he was a winner,” Sterrenberg said.

“We were real excited about coach Brady just because of his tradition,” Dan Sterrenberg said. “We always thought that he was a winner. Adam had some other schools he was looking at, but he was very interested in it and when we went down to Arkansas State Adam was ready to commit that day.”

The father made sure the son honored his other planned college visits, but Adam’s path was clearly set.

Not that it has always been an easy path.

Adam admitted he struggled on defense early and knows he needs to put more muscle on his 6-3, 175-pound frame. And averaging just over 12 minutes after being the centerpiece at Cabot can be hard to swallow, he said.

“It’s a little frustrating, but I’ve got to keep in mind I’m a freshman,” Sterrenberg said. “My time will come.”

Brady said Sterrenberg, if not ahead of schedule, is certainly not behind.

“I’ve been really pleased with him and how he’s progressing,” Brady said. “He didn’t play as much early as he would have liked.

I think the more he’s learned and the more he’s gotten used to playing at this level, particularly from a defensive standpoint, he’s progressed quite well.”

Sterrenberg was disappointed — with family, former teammates and Bridges in the stands — that the Red Wolves couldn’t pull out a victory Thursday.

But after going 5-13 last year, Arkansas State entered today 14-9 and in first place in the Sun Belt West at 9-3. With the conference tournament set for Hot Springs in March, Sterrenberg will likely get another shot to perform in a meaningful game before a partisan crowd.

“The coaches and payers all have confidence in me and that’s all I need,” Sterrenberg said.