Most New Zealand children do not imagine their careers taking them to Oklahoma City. Until recently, perhaps most New Zealanders had never even heard of Oklahoma City. A national star has changed that.
Like many New Zealand youths, Steven Adams aspired to join the nation's most prestigious club, not the NBA.
"I actually wanted to play rugby," Adams says. "I wanted to be an All-Black."
Adams was blessed with size from a young age. He says he hit his growth spurt early and was consistently the tallest among peers. But height is not always an advantage in rugby.
"If you're the tallest guy, they're just waiting for you to catch the ball, so they can tackle you," Adams says. "I was also really skinny."
When Adams reached his teens, he came to the realization, no New Zealand kid wants to come to: He was not going to be an All-Black.
"I did that until I was 13 and then switched over to basketball because rugby was tough," he says. "It was just hard."
At seven feet tall, Adams found early success on the court that drew interest from New Zealand professional teams and American college programs. Adams understood he would have trouble judging his basketball potential due to New Zealand's lack of competition.
"We played, but it wasn't good," he says. "[My friends and I] would just play for fun. It wasn't as popular a sport. It's all rugby there."
Soon after Adams committed himself to basketball, he became one of New Zealand's elite stars. In 2011, at age 17, Adams signed with the Wellington Saints of the New Zealand NBL. Adams won an NBL Championship and a Rookie of the Year Award in his one season with the Saints. Adams proceeded to play one college season at Pittsburgh, where he averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks and earned Big East All-Rookie Team honors.
As a rookie with Oklahoma City in 2013-14, Adams, the 12th overall pick, averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.8 minutes with 20 starts. His playing time increased in the playoffs to 18.4 minutes.
In 2014-15, Adams has evolved into a more dynamic big man, passing veteran center Kendrick Perkins on the depth chart to start every game. Adams has averaged 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 24.5 minutes through 24 games.
Adams' production has been especially necessary for a team that had holes early. For four weeks, the Thunder trudged along without stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The team struggled, going 4-11 missing the two stars that have led the team together for six years (5-12 in games without Durant). Talking before Westbrook and Durant's return, Adams acknowledged the team's mindset did not change, for the most part.
"Nick Collison did play some of the three," Adams says "Other than that, no one really changed [his] role. We just kind of stood up and said we had to play as a team. Kevin and Russell are good players."
Added Adams about the stars' absence: "They're doing all they can to help us out. Russell's been really good. He's been giving me tips and stuff on what he sees. They're like coaches."
In Adams' rookie season, Durant earned his first MVP Award. Adams calls the reigning MVP "a real laid back dude" and claims Durant has the same persona off-camera as he appears to the public.
In terms of his own game, Adams is budding into a stellar NBA center. The youngster was promoted to the starting lineup, where he his role has seen a noticeable hike in stats.
Night-in, night-out, Adams is dueling with some of the league's top big men. Adams can name a handful he enjoys battling.
"Zach Randolph's always a good time," he says. "Dwight Howard's always good. Oh, and DeAndre Jordan. He's fun."
Adams' teammates are a form of support for his growing game. But the Thunder's roster of 15 is actually smaller than his immediate family. Adams is one of 18 siblings.
"They're supporting me all the time," Adams says. "What's good is they came out with this thing -- what's it called? -- Facebook. We just made a group chat, so everyone just keeps writing in there. It's 15 of us. The other three are probably in the bush somewhere."
Adams is the youngest and tallest of the siblings. Growing up with 17 older siblings, Adams had a natural chip on his shoulder while learning from them.
"It was cool, but it was tough," he says. "They're really old. They're old school. They do teach me a lot of things. I was more competitive because I was always the weakest. ... Playing against my sisters and my brothers, the older ones would play really rough and elbow you. Plus the younger ones did a little too."
Now, Adams has a new family in Oklahoma City. In his sophomore season, Adams' image is growing in the city, where Adams says he has "met a lot of New Zealanders."
"I'm recognized a lot more than when I first got here," he says. "They're all good. All of them want to come say hello and good job and what not. They're good people."
The NBA and American Express recently followed Adams around as he roamed Oklahoma City. The videos capture Adams as he engages with fans and local businesses.
"The community here's really big and they support the Thunder through thick and thin," he says.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.