Steve Adams has been watching Illinois State University Redbird basketball teams run up and down the court since 1976. As the team’s public address (PA) announcer for four decades, his seat is a good one— in front of the front row. And, given that early in his career he was a sportswriter for The Pantagraph, his hometown newspaper, it’s safe to say he knows what he’s looking at when it comes to observing players and coaches.
“I pride myself on knowing the game,” Adams said in describing how he approaches his duties as the voice of the Redbirds. “It’s subtle, but it’s an absolute essential.”
And, no matter the outcome of this post-season—NCAA bid or not—Adams has enjoyed the 2016-17 version of Redbird basketball.
“People got their money’s worth watching this team,” Adams said. “This was a fun team to watch.”
With a 27-6 overall record, this Redbird team has won a lot, and as Adams knows from experience: “The season is a lot longer when you’re losing.”
Adams said this year’s team has shown character as the season has gone along, especially from what he called the core group of players: Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins, Tony Wills, and MiKyle McIntosh.
“I was very impressed with their ability to come up with the key plays when they needed to, especially on defense,” he said. “If you’re inconsistent on offense, your defense will help you.”
Adams credited head coach Dan Muller for putting together a quality staff and a quality team, particularly since key recruits from Muller’s first recruiting class are seniors this year.
“Muller earned coach of the year (Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year),” Adams said. “This is truly his team.”
Adams described the Redbirds as a very likeable team, which he thought was important. He cited the fact that Lee has been a four-year starter, which has given fans the opportunity to really get to know him as a player.
“The fans have taken to the team—for their skills, for their personalities,” Adams said. “The chemistry of this team is as good as it gets; they really like each other.”
As for what comes next in the post-season, Adams said it’s been too long since an Illinois State team made it into the big tournament. The Redbirds haven’t been back to the NCAA since Muller was a player for former coach Kevin Stallings during the 1997 and 1998 seasons, when the Redbirds made tournament appearances in Muller’s last two seasons.
“We haven’t been there since; that’s a long drought,” Adams said. “It’s nice to connect the similar successes (between Muller and Stallings).”
Adams admits to having concerns that the Redbirds won’t get the nod from the NCAA on Selection Sunday on March 12, but he believes getting in would be a fitting way to end a fine season.
“The integrity of this team really should be capped off with an NCAA bid,” he said.
A couple of years ago Adams tried to retire from both of his PA jobs (he also did Redbird football for over three decades), but it didn’t go so well, as he described it.
His wife Sandi ’67 loves going to the games and thought her husband would become her date to home games rather than sitting courtside or up in the press box.
“I tried to give it up cold turkey; I was a terrible fan,” Adams said. “Sandi said I was a terrible seatmate. Every down, every dribble, every field goal, every foul was difficult. How could you possibly be happy sitting in your seat?”
So, when the school asked, he decided to come back on a year-to-year basis, but for basketball only.
“It’s in my blood,” he said.
So, has this been his favorite season of all?
“I’ve had a lot of best years,” Adams said. “That’s the fortunate thing about being the voice of the Redbirds; I’ve seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst.”
And, though, he said he watched a lot of lousy teams in between the good years, including one that went 5-22, he thinks the future looks pretty promising.
“It takes a lot to build a team,” Adams said. “And, they (Muller, et al) have proven that the foundation has been there.”