In the cozy den at the Freeport home of former Hempstead boys basketball coach Ted Adams, the trophies, plaques and photos of a distinguished career have been replaced by artwork that depicts his love of music, media and travel. Adams plays the trumpet; his wife, Richele, plays the recorder. For both, it was time to change the soundtrack of their lives.
So even though the venerable Adams, who retired in September after 30 years of coaching the Tigers, is immensely proud of all that he accomplished, there are no visible displays that would tell a visitor that this is the home of the man who has won more boys basketball games -- 517 -- than any one else in Nassau County history. No signs anywhere of a 17-time county champion, 12-time Long Island champ and three-time state titlist.
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"That's part of my philosophy," said Adams who, like his wife, retired last year after long careers as elementary school teachers in the Hempstead district. "Basketball is a team sport. Whatever you do in basketball, as a player or a coach, it's attributable to the entire group. I find it difficult to take an award for what the entire group has accomplished."
Like his stylish wardrobe -- "one of the smoothest-dressing coaches around," said former Tiger George Alford, Adams' first star -- Adams, 70, wears his modesty well.
"I never, ever heard him talk about how many wins he had," said Lamont Hough, another Hempstead star who coached under Adams for eight seasons. "Talk about humble. He's one of the best men I've ever met. He was a teacher, a mentor. He brought to us structure, discipline and decision-making. He taught us to overcome adversity in the classroom and on the court."
When Adams made his decision to leave the game and the kids he loved behind, he and Richele re-decorated the den and moved on to the next song on their life's playlist. But the music of his hoops legacy continues to play in the background.
A medley of his greatest hits? "A lot of favorite players, a lot of favorite teams," Adams said with a laugh. "It's difficult to pick because different kids brought different things. I can say that I've got kids who have their names in the record books at Glens Falls . Lamont Hough made seven threes in one game up there."
Hough started at Northeastern and several of Adams' players had outstanding Division I college careers, though none made the NBA. But Rob Moore, a football-basketball star at Hempstead, had an excellent NFL career as a wide receiver with Arizona and the Jets. The Terry brothers, Reggie and Tim, who also played football and basketball at Hempstead, both work in player personnel for NFL teams -- Reggie with the Cardinals and Tim with the Packers.
Kyle Ivey-Jones, another Hempstead star, "called us 'Pop and Mom,' '' Adams recalled fondly. Richele laughingly remembered that Alford was "a terror in the fifth grade, but when he played for Ted, we fell in love with him."
"That's absolutely true!" Alford said of his rambunctious elementary school days. "But from the time I tried out for Mr. A's youth basketball team, he changed my life. He was like a father figure. He had his rules, but if you had a problem, you could talk to him about anything. He didn't copy anyone's style. He had his own way of doing things."
That included a mantra of "body, mind and spirit" that Adams preached to his players. And that is why he always loved the fact that his players rarely called him "Coach," preferring instead the affectionate "Mr. A."
"I liked that. 'Coach' was limiting," said Adams, who compiled a 517-158 record. "When you call me 'Mr. A,' you're looking at me as a person with a broad perspective, not just a coach."
Of course, Mr. A was an A-plus coach who wanted his kids to "dream big." Those dreams came through, big time, at Glens Falls, where Adams guided Hempstead to three state large-school titles, rarely leaving his seat during games.
"He coached us so much in practice, he didn't have to coach much during the games," Hough said. "But he was always writing things down. We used to joke about it. 'What's he writing, a shopping list?' Then the next day at the next practice, he'd go over everything that he wrote down that we did wrong in the game."
All that practice paid off in the Tigers' last state championship, in 1993, against powerhouse Mount Vernon.
"I remember the play we ran. At the end of practice, we'd go through our five-second play. So against Mount Vernon, sure enough, we're down one with five seconds on the clock," Adams said. "We run a back-pick out-of-bounds play -- a play we ran every day in practice. The kids went out there and ran it just the way they were supposed to. The last thing I said in practice after the play was 'everybody goes to the basket.' We missed the first shot but Norris Bell tapped it in off the miss and we won the game ."
Of all the hardware Adams has accumulated over the years, one he cherishes greatly is a plaque he received from his 1985-86 team. When he mentioned it, Richele went upstairs, rummaged through some boxes and found it. Below a photo of Alford and Warren Stith, the plaque reads, in part, "You've made us better people, not just better ballplayers."
Adams smiled when he read it for at least the 517th time. "This is one of my favorites," he said softly, "because the players gave it to me."
Players who'd been given so much by the man they called "Mr. A.''