On Senior Day at USC last February, junior center Kristen Simon wore the jersey of her friend Jordan Adams, who had sat for what was to be her last season after tearing her ACL in November.
In a few months, Adams will wear No. 1 herself at her last home game, as she returned to the Trojans for a sixth year in 2017-2018 after being granted a medical hardship waiver. And if the early season is any indicator, it could be a emotional day.
Adams is picking up where she left off two years ago and has started every game, averaging 30 minutes per outing. She is the fifth-leading scorer (5.3 points per game) on the team, the third-best rebounder (5.4 per game), is second in assists (3.4 per game) and leads in blocks, with eight so far in helping USC get off to a 10-1 start.
Equally important to the Trojans is what the former Mater Dei High School star brings to the team outside the lines of the court. The humor she displays in fan engagement videos at Galen Center is akin to the kind of person she is with her teammates: a warm joke-teller whose infectious personality encourages the younger players and draws the entire team closer together.
Simon described Adams as family.
“She’s a great leader, role model, she’s just an overall great person,” Simon said. “Coach had a perfect word for her. She’s the ‘glue’. She could be the glue for any team. She’s that X-factor. That person, if she’s playing right, (that ensures) the whole team is going to be good.”
That opinion is shared universally among Adams’ teammates.
“Jordan has a lot of leadership, it was really tough losing her really early in the season last year,” sophomore guard Minyon Moore said. “Just having her back has a huge impact on our team that’s going to give us a lot of good minutes in the long run.”
Simon said Adams’ return boosted the entire team.
“I found out Jordan was coming back and I was like ‘I’m in,'” Simon said. “To have your senior year with Jordan Adams, what can anybody else ask for?”
For Adams, being given a sixth year of eligibility is the culmination of a long, arduous journey through injuries, academic issues and several casts of changing characters. She’s hoping the road will lead to a professional career.
“It’s everybody’s dream to play in the WNBA, play professionally, so that’s what I’m going for,” she said.
Adams’ start at USC was rocky. Nine games into the season, doctors discovered she had a mass growing in her right knee where she had torn her Posterior Cruciate Ligament in her senior year of high school. She had to have surgery, so was out for the year. Then at the end of the season the University fired coach Michael Cooper and brought in Cynthia Cooper-Dyke to lead the program.
The next year was Adams’ redshirt freshman season, and the Trojans upset Stanford to win the Pac-12 Tournament. They lost to Colorado in the first round of the same tournament the next year, ending a challenging season that saw five players leave the program.
Adams’ junior year in 2015-2016 was cut short when she and guard Brianna Barrett were ruled academically ineligible after 12 games. USC had just broke into the AP top 25 for the first time in many years, but without two starters they went on a losing streak and dropped off of the list for good.
Not two weeks into her senior season last fall, Adams tore her ACL at a tournament in Alaska in the first quarter of the first game. She made the most of the year, cheering on her teammates and conducting post-game interviews for team use. It was easy to assume she would call it a career.
But Adams couldn’t do that. She applied for a hardship waiver from the NCAA, and got it. She said there were several reasons to return for a sixth year.
“For me and my professional career, in order for me to be able to step into the pro game, I needed to be able to at least have a year of basketball under my belt and unfortunately, I really had only played about 20 games in a matter of two years,” she said. “That wasn’t enough.”
Adams knew that in order for her playing career to continue, she would need to prove that she was healthy enough to compete at the next level.
“Could you imagine me coming off of an ACL tear trying to make a WNBA team?” she said. “I couldn’t,” she added.
Adams said she also felt incomplete, not having played a full season for two years. And she wanted to do right by USC.
“I felt like I owed the University that because they’ve done so much for me,” she said. “I love this school. I couldn’t imagine spending a sixth year anywhere else.”
The person who inspired Adams the most in her recovery from injury last year was none other than Trojan alumni Jacki Gemelos, who endured five ACL surgeries in her six years with USC.
“When I tore my ACL – me and Jacki are actually pretty good friends – and she reached out to me and sent me a long message and just told me this is just a bump in the road,” Adams said. “It’s not the end. This isn’t the end. If you want it, you can have it.”
Ironically, it was Gemelos whom Adams looked up to growing up.
“I remember when I was young I went and saw Jacki play when she was playing for St. Mary’s in high school, and she was actually a huge inspiration for me playing basketball, me being the player I am today, and actually me coming into USC,” Adams said.
Her return also coincided with the rehiring of Mark Trakh as the Trojan’s coach after an eight-year absence. Trakh had designs on Adams early in her high school career.
“We joke because I recruited her the first time I was here,” Trakh said. “I wanted her to be a Trojan then, and I’m really happy I get to coach her now. It’s really been a great experience coaching her.”
The admiration is mutual.
“It’s absolutely an honor to be able to play for Mark Trakh,” Adams said.
“It’s so funny how things do come full circle and how lucky I am. If this didn’t seem like it was fate, then I don’t know what else could.”
When Adams leaves USC next spring, she’ll have two degrees and many lessons under her belt. She said the hardest one was being ruled academically ineligible, which was the result of both she and Barrett making incorrect citations on final papers.
“I’m a really good student and I take academics seriously, and I felt like people looked at me like I was dumb,” Adams said. “It was a minor mistake on paper, but because this is USC, it was a major mistake. It was a final and we were crammed and rushing.”
“From that, I learned that I have to triple-check my work.”
Adams said not being able to play was only part of the pain.
“It really hurt to hear commentators tear us down,” she said. “It hurt for me especially because Bri is one of my best friends, and it was hard to see her not finish out her senior year.”
Adams, whose Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees are both in communications, made the most of sitting out last year, as she did play-by-play and interviews for a few USC games. She said her propensity for speaking made the task easy.
“I love doing live games. I love basketball. I love talking basketball,” she said. “I love doing interviews and giving insight into the game. Honestly, I love the entertainment factor of basketball, and I think a huge factor in that are the commentators. They make the game for the people watching and listening.”
She said she might seek a broadcasting career after her playing days are over, and she aims to make that a long time from now. Adams and the Trojans begin Pac-12 play next week at the top of the conference standings.
“We’re excited to get going,” she said.
Sue Favor co-authored this report.