BOULDER - Jeremy Adams' main concern through next weekend is providing quality minutes off the bench for the Colorado basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.
But not far behind those quality minutes is his quality of life.
This has been a very, very different year and basketball season for Adams, a muscular 6-5, 215-pound guard who signed with CU last April after playing one season at Navarro (Texas) Junior College and averaging a team-best 12.4 points. He initially signed with Texas A&M, redshirting in the 2009-10 season, after a stellar high school career in Madison, Miss., where he averaged 27.2 points.
The routine rigors, aches and pains of athletics aside, Adams had experienced no health problems. Ironically, that changed last April after signing on with the Buffaloes. He suffered a loss of energy, his resistance went downhill. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
"In looking back, there were some times last year when I felt a little weird," he said. "Now I know why."
Among his first concerns was what it might mean for his scholarship - and that was absolutely no cause for concern, CU coach Tad Boyle said Monday: "That never entered my mind."
Nonetheless, how utterly unfounded it might have been, it entered Adams' mind, and news of his condition wasn't broken to Boyle and his staff until Adams reported for the first summer school term. Assistant athletic trainer Trae Tashiro and the CU medical staff checked to determine how Adams had been managing his diabetes at the Texas junior college.
CU then steered Adams toward a general practitioner, an endocrinologist and a nutritionist. "And we put together a full game plan and went from there," Tashiro said. "It was an educational process for him - what his numbers (blood sugar) should be at, how he gets there, his carb count . . . all those things."
But coping wasn't easy. December was a trying month for Adams in his on-going duel with the disease. Complicating things, a knee to the head in practice produced concussion symptoms that sidelined him for a couple of games. He's been long since cleared to play, but the battle with diabetes is lasting.
"It's taken him a while to manage it," Boyle said. "It affected him early a lot - more than he realized or maybe was willing to admit. That's a life-changing, not a basketball-season changing event, a life-changing event. It's not something you take lightly. I'm not the most educated person (on diabetes), but I know a lot more about it today than I did a year ago.
"I don't want to say it was denial, but there was some resistance on his part . . . like, 'I can handle this by myself.' I think it was clear in his ability to produce on the floor that that wasn't the case. I think he's got a handle on it now."
Adams said his father, Jim, a former football player at Delta (Miss.) State and member of the school's Hall of Fame, has Type 2 diabetes. He said his own diagnosis with Type 1 "just came out of the blue . . . it was a tough process. My first year playing with it has been kind of up and down. But within the last few weeks I've been starting to feel a lot better."
He conceded there were "some times during the season when I got up and thought I shouldn't be practicing. I was really tired. But I'm adjusting better to it; I've got a lot of energy now." (That's partly due to taking steps to remedy a vitamin D deficiency with twice weekly supplements.)
Sophomore center Shane Harris-Tunks, Adams' roommate, said he admires his teammate's perseverance and resiliency: "Every day, he's day-to-day in practice. That kind of uncertainty has to be hard . . . it's a credit to him that he's able to do that. It's big deal for somebody who's not a college athlete; it's a bigger deal for somebody who is."
That's because blood sugar levels can be affected by most of what an athlete experiences on a daily basis - stress, extreme cardiovascular work, or an injury. "Because he is an athlete, we have to check more often than someone who might be sitting at a desk," Tashiro said.
Also, noted Tashiro, since Adams left junior college, he has encountered an unstable period in his life: a trip home to Mississippi, coming to Boulder, starting summer school, off-season workouts, the start of fall semester, basketball practice beginning in mid-October and practice times changing.
After initially using insulin injections shortly after his diagnosis, Adams now depends on an insulin pump. Tashiro checks Adams' blood sugar level before games, and depending on that reading, would recheck it "every 20 to 30 minutes during a two-hour game." If necessary, though, a pin-prick check will be done at every media timeout during a game.
Adams believes he provided "some good minutes" in a reserve role in last week's Pac-12 Conference tournament and said he has had "some quality practices recently. It's a little easier when you get more minutes because you're more comfortable."
Boyle agreed with Adams on the Pac-12 tourney playing time: "He really helped us in L.A.; he hit some big free throws and gave us good minutes. If we want to play a small lineup, we'll do that with him in there."
Adams has played in 29 games (one start) and is averaging 10 minutes, with 2.3 points and 1.4 rebounds. Junior guard Sabatino Chen averages 10.3 minutes (2.1.; 1.1) and the 6-11 Harris-Tunks averages 12.8 minutes (2.7; 2.2). Freshman guard Askia Booker, whom Boyle calls "a sixth starter," averages more minutes (21.3) than any other player off the bench and averages 8.7 points.
Said Boyle: "It's hard when you're coming off the bench. He (Adams) and Sabatino and Shane - even 'Ski' to a degree - they've got hard jobs. They come in, their leash isn't as long . . . I may not accept their mistakes as readily and might be quicker to pull the trigger. Because of that they've got to be mentally tough; they don't know if they're going to play 10 or 20 minutes - or five minutes. They've all handled it and accepted it well."
Chen has been slowed by an ankle sprain. He didn't play in the Pac-12 championship game, which made Adams' bench contributions more vital - particularly on defense. "With 'Sab' (Sabatino Chen) going out, I had to step up my role on the defensive end, and that's what I tried to do," Adams said. "After watching the Oregon-Oregon State tapes, coach said we were going back to defense and rebounding, so I tried to make a concerted effort to do that."
Playing defense the way Boyle demands it might have been new to Adams, but he has caught on. "I did have to play defense in JC, but maybe not a lot," Adams said with a grin. "Actually, I love playing defense. I've done it a lot more since coming out of high school, and I did it at Texas A&M (as a redshirt freshman) against some guys who were all-conference."
Chen said Monday he believed he would be available Thursday in CU's first-round NCAA Tournament game against UNLV in Albuquerque (7:57 p.m., MDT). Boyle is counting on it: "With UNLV, the way they spread the floor, we're going to need some minutes from Sabatino. I expect him to be full strength."
Harris-Tunks' sophomore season, by his admission, has had its "ups and downs. I think I'm getting more consistent as I get more comfortable. This time of year, we've played so many games, you really know your roles. I think I did a good job of rebounding, especially in the Arizona game. A lot of the stuff I do is off the ball, away from the ball, and there are really no stats for it. But you notice it and your teammates notice it."
Adams believes he's becoming more and more capable as he educates himself about his diabetes and learns to manage it. "He's doing that," Tashiro said. "The nice thing about Jeremy is he's a good kid, a smart kid. Everything we ask of him he does; it would be a lot harder if he was a knucklehead and didn't take it serious. That's the biggest thing that's made it easier - he's responsible."