Adaptable Adelekun: Dartmouth senior adjusts to circumstances with success

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2023 8:58 PM

HANOVER — Dame Adelekun’s play in the post is unconventional. So much so that he came up with one of his signature moves on the fly.

The Dartmouth College men’s basketball team was at Columbia last season, off to a 1-4 start in Ivy League play, and the Lions were taking away Adelekun’s right hand and sitting on his drop-step move. So the then-junior big man tried a dribble spin move to get around the defense and clear his path to the basket.

It worked, and then it kept on working, quickly becoming a big part of Adelekun’s game. After breaking out with 10 games in double figures in scoring during conference play last year, the 6-foot-8 senior from Gastonia, N.C., now leads the Big Green in both scoring and rebounding, helping keep Dartmouth in contention for its first trip to the Ivy League tournament.

“I would consider myself a big problem-solver,” Adelekun said. “Every game, I will look at all my missed buckets and see what caused them and use that as a focus for how I should train in practice.”

During the Big Green’s home losses to Brown and Yale early this month, in which Dartmouth’s offense looked lethargic in both first halves, the Bears and Bulldogs were keying on Adelekun and denying him easy looks, forcing him into tough, contested shots. So the following week, Adelekun focused on hook shots and fadeaways because he knew he might not be able to get to his preferred spots.

In his next game, Adelekun was 10-for-14 from the field and scored 25 points to lead the Big Green to an upset win over first-place Princeton.

“I knew, going into this year, my weakness was I wasn’t good playing on double teams,” Adelekun said. “I wasn’t really used to it much. I did a lot of focus on reading where to look during a double-team, where I should pass, what places I should be making my reads. Whenever I see a problem on the court, I always find ways to fix it.”

Adelekun’s family helped instill in him his relentless work ethic. His parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1996, and two weeks after Dame was born in New York, the family moved to Gastonia, part of the Charlotte metropolitan area. His father, Temidayo, is an internal medicine specialist, and his mother, Patricia, helps run an assisted living community.

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Oluwademilade Ebose Wilson Adelekun — the full name has 32 letters, matching his jersey number — was always tall compared to his peers and began playing basketball recreationally from a young age, also playing football in middle school and running on the track team as a high school freshman.

After playing his freshman year at Highland Tech, a magnet school in Gastonia focused on training students for careers in the sciences, Adelekun transferred to the private Gaston Day School, which had a much stronger basketball tradition — Highland Tech went 2-23 during his lone year there.

Gaston Day, meanwhile, was a combined 50-8 in Adelekun’s sophomore and junior seasons, going undefeated in league play both years. The summer before he enrolled there, Adelekun began attending early morning workouts led by Jody Patton, an assistant coach at Gaston Day who also became his personal trainer.

Patton and some of the other workout partners began calling him Dame, and the nickname stuck. Previously, Adelekun had primarily gone by Demi.

“He was really raw. He was weak,” Patton said. “But (he was) hard-working (and) eager to be better. The workouts are tough; I’m tough on all of our athletes … but Dame just kept coming back and wanted to know more. He just kept getting better, and he’s just a workaholic. He came to workouts twice a day, he was in the weight room, he’d make sure he does everything he’s supposed to do. He’s always been an overachiever.”

Patton is the founder of Kingdom of Development (KOD) Skills Academy, first coaching his son Jevon, who now plays professionally in Mexico. The pick-up games included several Division I college players and even some who now play in the NBA G League.

Adelekun was injured for much of his junior year and lost a season of Amateur Athletic Union ball but made a huge leap as a senior, averaging 20 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game for the Spartans. He finished with 1,650 points in just three years at Gaston Day.

“He made a jump from his junior to his senior year,” Patton said. “Dame understands where he fits. He knows who he is, he knows what he can do. His passing is off the charts for a big, he handles the ball very well for a big, and Dame can shoot that basketball. He’s just comfortable in being him.”

Adelekun’s injury put his recruitment on hold — his first Division I offer did not come until February of his senior year. The Ivy League was always his target, and former Dartmouth assistant coach Pete Hutchins, who was previously a prep school head coach, first brought Adelekun to the attention of head coach David McLaughlin.

McLaughlin made the trip to North Carolina to look at Adelekun’s game early in his senior season, eventually building a relationship and convincing his family to visit Hanover. On Adelekun’s official visit, McLaughlin showed him a presentation detailing his potential trajectory with the Big Green, ending with him being named an all-Ivy League player as an upperclassman. Adelekun is now well on his way to becoming just that.

“He’s got extremely long arms, he’s got great timing, he’s got huge hands, and he plays hard,” McLaughlin said. “He was not a finished product when he got here by any means. He’s worked really hard here every year.”

Adelekun made nine appearances as a freshman, never playing more than 10 minutes in a game, and he scored 10 of his 12 points that year against D-III Thomas College of Maine. His sophomore season was wiped out due to the Ivy League’s response to COVID-19, so once gyms reopened in Gastonia, he went right back to working out with Patton. The pickup games were intense — the losing team had to buy wings for the group when they went out afterward.

Upon his return to Hanover, Adelekun missed nearly a month in non-conference play last season but worked his way into the starting lineup near the beginning of Ivy play. He had three double-doubles, including a 17-point, 15-rebound performance against a Yale team that played in the NCAA tournament. Two weeks later, he scored a season-high 19 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting in a win over Cornell.

“I actually quote the COVID pandemic being the best thing for my career,” Adelekun said. “I got to get back with my trainer for an extended period of time. Not having to focus on games and traveling and having an entire year to focus on improvement really helped me out a lot.”

With forwards Aaryn Rai and Garrison Wade graduating, Adelekun knew he would become the Big Green’s focal point in the frontcourt, and he developed a strict stretching routine over the offseason to increase his mobility and agility. He has even extended his range from time to time, going 6-for-13 so far this year from 3-point range with nine of his attempts coming in the last six games.

Adelekun’s play on the defensive end is also much-improved — he has kept many of the Ivy League’s best post players in check and done better at avoiding foul trouble.

“We can play him longer because he’s not fouling,” McLaughlin said. “His ability to compete in practice every repetition is great. His ability to let the game come to him and his ability to be a rim protector on the defensive end has been huge for us.”

After starting conference play scoring at least 12 points in five straight games, Adelekun did deal with foul trouble on Jan. 21 at Princeton and was held to six points in just 18 minutes of an overtime loss. But he put everything together a week later against Columbia, setting a Leede Arena record with 41 points and becoming the first Dartmouth player with 40 in a game since 1987.

Adelekun said he was inspired by a speech the day before the game from Stephen Gonzalez, Dartmouth athletics’ head of leadership and mental performance. Gonzalez noticed that Columbia played well in transition, so he emphasized putting the pressure on the Lions rather than reacting to the stress Columbia could put on the Big Green.

“That obviously hit a chord with Dame,” Gonzalez said. “Each week, it’s about simplifying the process, giving these guys quick, sticky one-liners to adhere to to help them with their focus, their concentration, their confidence, in concert with the team’s values and aspirations.”

A sociology major, Adelekun expects to continue his basketball career after exhausting his Ivy League eligibility, either by transferring as a graduate student or pursuing professional opportunities.

With two games to go, Dartmouth is fighting an uphill battle for Ivy League tournament positioning, needing wins over Penn and Harvard — plus a fair amount of help — to get in. The Quakers and Crimson are both guard-oriented teams, so the Big Green’s fate is not all on Adelekun’s shoulders, but they will nonetheless need their best big in top form.

“The guys are connected through his energy,” McLaughlin said. “You see when he makes a play out there what the bench looks like, and that’s real. He’s like that all the time, and it was the same way when I recruited him. I’d be ready to get off the phone and he would ask me another question. He’s just curious by nature, which I think is great, he’s very thoughtful, and that translates to his energy on the court.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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