Adam Gonzalez arrived at Quinnipiac University sporting a pair of braids down to his neck and a permanent smile that’s evolved into his trademark both on and off the basketball court.
Anytime a former National Junior College Player of the Year inks with a Northeast Conference program, high expectations, hype and hearsay tend to brew around campus faster than a keg party.
Not at Quinnipiac. Hockey has always been given the torch to carry for the university and intramural basketball seems to generate more interest than the Bobcats do.
In Gonzalez’s year-and-a-half with Quinnipiac, however, doubters have morphed into believers. Gonzalez and the Bobcats (12-12, 10-5 NEC) have vaulted into second place in the NEC and their transition to the TD Banknorth Sports Center has come with much excitement and fanfare.
Gonzalez, a highly-sought-after product on the recruiting market after his sophomore year at Cecil Community College, a breeding house for mid-major to major Division I ballers, has turned many heads this season.
The Bronx, N.Y. native is is averaging 14.7 points per game and leading the team with 86 assists. The well-traveled senior has developed into a playmaker with a proclivity for schooling opponents in one-on-one situations.
“You really won’t find anyone in the Northeast Conference that’s better off the dribble and in one-on-one situations than Gonzalez,” said Bill Schweizer, the voice of Quinnipiac basketball, during a loss to New Hampshire earlier in the season.
He’s a superstar camouflaged as a role player. The 6-foot-3 combo guard sets up his teammates before taking it upon himself to take over.
Last year, Gonzalez would facilitate the offensive attack right off defensive rebounds.
He’s done much of the same this year. With speedy guards Casey Cosgrove and Job Casimir operating the offense, however, Gonzalez has become more of a scoring threat.
He’s a New York kid with a New York savvy.
Most of his success, however, has come outside the Big Apple. Gonzalez left home at just 15 on a quest to pursue better opportunities for his hoop career.
As a freshman at St. Raymond’s High, a perennial powerhouse in the Bronx, Gonzalez found himself buried behind a lineup that featured a set of then-major Division I prospects in Allan Ray (Villanova, Boston Celtics), Julius Hodge (North Carolina State, Milwaukee Bucks) and Gavin Grant (North Carolina State). He wanted a new situation where he could grow as both a player and leader.
“I had to get out of New York,” Gonzalez said with a brief laugh. “I wasn’t doing too well over there.”
Gonzalez found a golden opportunity when he learned of a prestigious high school program in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, a close drive from where his aunt was living. Gonzalez transferred schools, got acclimated to a different environment and was flushed into a prominent role. During his three-year stay at Pocono Mountain High, Gonzalez established himself as the school’s most prolific scorer. He would finish as the school’s all-time leader with 1,771 points.
At the end of Gonzalez’s junior year at Pocono, however, tragedy emerged. His aunt passed on and he was ready to return to New York, settle back in and help his family during the grieving process.
Coaches and teammates convinced him to stay.
“I wanted to leave at that point,” Gonzalez said. “I ended up staying with a couple of teammates in a house that [final] year.”
Playing with a heavy heart, Gonzalez led the state in scoring with 29 points per game.
Though actively pursued by Cecil Community coach Bill Lewit, Gonzalez opted to attend Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, Pa. for its proximity.
“It was really only 45 minutes from my high school and I was familiar with the area,” he said.
In his lone year at Lackawanna, Gonzalez made his presence felt.
He averaged 25 points, leading a sleeper team to the NJCAA Division-II championship.
“We were pretty much a Cinderella team that year,” he recalls. “We were expected to lose in the first round but we made it all the way to the championship in Illinois.”
A buzzer-beater did Gonzalez and Lackawanna in as they surrendered the title to Mott Community College (Va.).
At the season’s conclusion, Gonzalez (who averaged 25 PPG as a freshman) was selected as a first team All-American and National JUCO Player of the Year.
Gonzalez transferred to Cecil Community two years later, another NJCAA school located in Maryland.
Gonzalez was re-united with Lewit and teamed up with current teammates Chris Wehye and Victor Akinyanju during his stay at Cecil.
“We were number one in the country for 12 weeks in a row [at Cecil]. I think we lost only three games that whole year,” Gonzalez said, who averaged 14 points and seven assists while at Cecil.
On Jan. 6, with Quinnipiac dropping into a 0-9 freefall, Gonzalez addressed his teammates before a critical conference game at St. Francis (Pa.). He talked about the importance of playing to win and guaranteed victory.
Shouldering the burden of savior, Gonzalez went off for a game-high 26 points, collecting seven boards and dishing out three assists while leading the Bobcats to a much-needed 89-82 victory.
“I kind of woke up that morning feeling real good,” Gonzalez said.
In the weeks following this, Gonzalez had a lot to feel good about. The Bobcats reeled off six straight victories, their longest winning streak since being elevated to the Division I ranks in the 1998-99 season.
In the arena-opening win against Long Island, Gonzalez scored 21 points and handed out a game-high seven assists en route to a 73-71 overtime win.
In the game’s waning seconds, Gonzalez calmly found center Victor Akinyanju, who got free for the game-winning layup.
It’s selfless plays like this that Gonzalez said he thrives in as he’s a firm believer in surrendering ‘me’ for ‘we’ on the basketball court. This disciplined brand of basketball builds winners.
Gonzalez buys into it because he respects the game. After all, it took him from a bad situation in the Bronx to the scenic campus of Quinnipiac, where his glowing smile is now recognized by many.
He’s established himself as a winner in Pennsylvania, Maryland and now Connecticut, where he’s helped resurrect an ailing program.
Gonzalez is making his presence felt as another season on the hardwood hits its final stretch