NBC News correspondent Craig Melvin will profile Orr basketball coach Lou Adams this week on “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.”
In the preview clip, Melvin talked with Wendell Pierce, the team’s assistant coach. Pierce explains Adams’ positive influence: “He’s like what the Pope is to the Vatican, what Obama was to the United States of America. Like, Lou is probably the most important person. He’s like the glue in this area. It’s not anything that he cannot help out with.”
Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander wrote about the Orr basketball program in “A Season Under the Gun,” which followed the team throughout the season and culminated in a five-part series in February. The school, which won the Class 2A basketball championship in March, is located on the West Side in what Telander described as “Ground Zero in Chicago’s world of violence.” As coach and assistant dean of students Adams has been a mentor to the players on the team, helping them get into college and stay away from the violence that surrounds them.
‘‘I can’t really tell you how it is for these kids,” Adams told Telander in February. “I talk to them all the time about the dangers of the city. Every day. It’s not about basketball — I’m in a whole different world.”
In June, Orr Academy played a charity game against Lake Forest, with all proceeds going towards the Orr basketball program.
The full transcript of the segment is below:
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: IF IT LOOKS LIKE HE’S COACHING AS IF SOMEONE’S LIFE DEPENDS ON IT, IT’S BECAUSE IT DOES. THIS IS THE ILLINOIS STATE HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIP. EVERYTHING COACH LOU ADAMS HAS WORKED SO HARD FOR ALL SEASON HAS COME DOWN TO THIS ONE FINAL MOMENT. FOR HIM, IT’S ABOUT MUCH MORE THAN A TITLE. IT’S ABOUT SAVING HIS PLAYERS’ LIVES. LOU IS HEAD COACH AT ORR ACADEMY ON CHICAGO’S WEST SIDE. IT’S AT THE CENTER OF SOME OF THE CITY’S DEADLIEST GUN VIOLENCE.
CRAIG MELVIN: On a scale of one to 10 in terms of the violence, 10 being the worst, where would you put it?
LOU ADAMS: 12.
CRAIG MELVIN: It’s that bad?
LOU ADAMS: It’s bad, man.
CRAIG MELVIN: Worse than people realize?
LOU ADAMS: It’s tough. It’s tough.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: IN THE LAST SEVEN MONTHS, THERE’VE BEEN MORE MURDERS IN THIS PART OF CHICAGO THAN ANY OTHER — MORE THAN 40.
CRAIG MELVIN: You hang out outside?
EARL BOSTON: No. No. It’s crazy, man. You can’t be out here. As soon as you come out, you hear bullets fly.
CRAIG MELVIN: When you hear that there’s been a shooting. Do you immediately make sure, make sure it’s not one of my guys?
LOU ADAMS: I make sure it’s not one of my guys, but it’s normal now, man. “Did he die?” That’s the first thing you ask. “Did he die?”
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: VIOLENCE HAS TOUCHED ALMOST EVERY PLAYER ON HIS TEAM. BOYS LIKE JUNIOR BRIAN HERNANDEZ.
BRIAN HERNANDEZ: My best friend when I was 14, two days before my birthday– he got shot and killed.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: EMANUEL O’NEAL SAYS IT’S WORSE THAN A WAR ZONE.
EMANUEL O’NEAL: It’s worse than a war, though, because in a war, you’d know they coming at you. You know they coming over here, you don’t know when it’s going to happen.
CRAIG MELVIN: That’s just the reality here?
EMANUEL O’NEAL: Yeah.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: LAST FALL, TWO OF DANNIE SMITH’S CLOSE FRIENDS WERE SHOT AND KILLED WHILE OUTSIDE.
CRAIG MELVIN: Late at night?
DANNIE SMITH: Yeah.
CRAIG MELVIN: What were the circumstances?
DANNIE SMITH: It’s hard. It was… yeah.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: IT’S STILL TOUGH FOR HIM TO TALK ABOUT.
CRAIG MELVIN: How did Coach Lou help you deal with that?
DANNIE SMITH: Just being like another father to me. Just keeping me away from all that stuff. When that happened, he was there for me when I needed him.
CRAIG MELVIN: How do you talk to a 16-year-old about losing two friends like that?
LOU ADAMS: You know, people say– “I know how you feel.” No. I don’t know how you feel because I have never lost my friend at 16. So I don’t know how you feel, but I can tell you this: We got to do this so this won’t happen to you.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: TO TRY AND STOP THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE, LOU HAS SPENT TWENTY-SOMETHING YEARS MENTORING IN SOME OF CHICAGO’S TOUGHEST NEIGHBORHOODS. THE LAST DECADE AT ORR. SOMETIMES, HE’S THEIR ONLY FATHER FIGURE.
CRAIG MELVIN: Do you know all these kids?
LOU ADAMS: Yeah.
CRAIG MELVIN: All of them?
LOU ADAMS: Every last one.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: LOU IS MUCH MORE THAN A COACH. HE’S ALSO A PROTECTOR, SAVIOR, AND FRIEND. HIS ASSISTANT COACH, WENDELL PIERCE.
WENDELL PIERCE: He’s like what the Pope is to the Vatican, what Obama was to the United States of America, like, Lou is probably the most important person. He’s like the glue in this area. It’s not anything that he cannot help out with.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: JUST TAKE A WALK WITH LOU AROUND ORR, AND THAT BECOMES OBVIOUS.
LOU ADAMS: I told him you’re the smartest kid in the building.
CRAIG MELVIN: He said you’re the smartest kid in the whole school! Is that true?
JASMINE: Yeah (laughs).
CRAIG MELVIN: Really?
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: HE WORKS CLOSELY WITH THE PRINCIPAL DR. SHANELE ANDREWS AS THE ASSISTANT DEAN OF STUDENTS… BUT HIS MAIN FOCUS IS HERE –THE BASKETBALL COURT. LOU KEEPS THE GYM DOORS OPEN LONG AFTER CLASSES ARE OVER – TO KEEP THE BOYS SAFE.
CRAIG MELVIN: Do they play outside during the summer?
LOU ADAMS: No, they can’t play outside no more.
CRAIG MELVIN: Why?
LOU ADAMS: It’s dangerous, man.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: IT’S CLEAR, THEY ALL LIVE FOR THE GAME. BUT FOR ALL THE LAUGHS, THE PLAYERS KNOW LOU EXPECTS HARD WORK AND DISCIPLINE… BECAUSE HE KNOWS IF THEY’RE GOOD ENOUGH, THEY JUST MIGHT EARN A BASKETBALL SCHOLARSHIP. AND A LIFE BEYOND THE VIOLENCE.
LOU ADAMS: It can get you wherever you got to go. This round ball can get you wherever you got to go, you know.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: WHEN THE SEASON BEGAN LAST DECEMBER, LOU HAD ANOTHER IDEA ABOUT HOW HE COULD TEACH HIS KIDS THAT ANYTHING WAS POSSIBLE. HE WANTED TO DO SOMETHING THE SCHOOL HAD NEVER DONE — WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE. HE KNEW THAT WOULD GET THE ATTENTION OF COLLEGE SCOUTS. HE ALSO KNEW, IT WOULD PROBABLY NEVER HAPPEN.
CRAIG MELVIN: This the best team you’ve ever coached– the most talented team?
LOU ADAMS: No. No. Not by far. But they work harder than any team I’ve ever had. That’s the difference.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: THE OTHER DIFFERENCE IS LOU.
RICK TELANDER: Lou and his coaches, when they coach, they go crazy.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES SPORTS COLUMNIST RICK TELANDER WAS SO CAPTIVATED BY LOU THAT HE FOLLOWED ORR’S BASKETBALL TEAM FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF THEIR SEASON.
RICK TELANDER: Lou sweats. And he’s like–
CRAIG MELVIN: Screaming and–
RICK TELANDER: –he’s like– he’s screaming–
CRAIG MELVIN: –cussing.
RICK TELANDER: –and he’s– he’s cussing. He was grabbing his players and everything. And he’s yelling at them. And you want to give him a towel and fan him and stuff.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: AS RICK WATCHED LOU WITH THE BOYS HE REALIZED, THIS TEAM WAS SOMETHING SPECIAL.
RICK TELANDER: It was just different. Because they respond to Lou in a way that a lot of players wouldn’t to a coach. Not out of fear. They did it out of love.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: BEFORE HE CAME TO CHICAGO — THE CITY WHERE HE BECAME A COACH AND HAD KIDS OF HIS OWN– LOU GREW UP IN TUNICA MISSISSISSIPPI. IN THE TOUGHEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
LOU ADAMS: No running water, you know, no gas, no heat, you know, it was just a house in a field.
CRAIG MELVIN: How do you think that shaped you?
LOU ADAMS: Because I know where I come from and I know where I got to go.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: AS FOR HIS TEAM, THEY WERE GOING FAR. IN A CRUCIAL GAME, THEY PULLED OFF AN UPSET WIN. BUT AT THE VERY MOMENT THE PLAYERS CELEBRATED INSIDE, CHAOS RAGED OUTSIDE. THE DAY THEY WON WAS CHICAGO’S DEADLIEST TO DATE– SEVEN KILLED INCLUDING A PREGNANT WOMAN. FOR LOU, A STARK REMINDER OF HOW CLOSE THE DANGER IS AT ALL TIMES.
CRAIG MELVIN: When you know what they’re up against in the neighborhood how do you keep them out of the gangs? How do you keep them off the stoop at 12:00, 1:00 a.m.?
LOU ADAMS: We busy. Like, we busy 24/7. All year long, we busy.
CRAIG MELVIN: That’s by design.
LOU ADAMS: Yeah. It’s by design.
CRAIG MELVIN: That’s part of the program.
LOU ADAMS: Because once, you know, they’re not busy that negativity sinks in when they not busy.
CRAIG MELVIN: Some of these kids seem to grow up pretty rough. What makes it so difficult for a lot of these boys?
LOU ADAMS: Just I think– knowing that you don’t have no help. Where am I supposed to get help from? I’m 16. Who’s supposed to help me?
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: FOR MANY KIDS, THAT PERSON IS LOU.
CRAIG MELVIN: If there was one thing that you would want Coach Lou to know about how you feel about him, what would it be?
EMANUEL O’NEAL: That he made me become a man in my household. There was never no man in the house, and I used to always say I was the man but never acted like it, but now I do.
CRAIG MELVIN: If you weren’t hooping, what would you be doing with your life?
EMANUEL O’NEAL: I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be at school. I’d be somewhere with a gun in my hand, drugs, something.
CRAIG MELVIN: You think so?
EMANUEL O’NEAL: Yeah. I know so.
CRAIG MELVIN: You think basketball’s saving you?
EMANUEL ONEAL: Yeah. Basketball saves a lot of people.
CRAIG MELVIN: Emanuel said to me, I said, “Well, if Coach Lou weren’t around what do you think your life would be like?” He said, “I’d probably have a gun in my hand. I’d probably be on the street selling drugs.” That’s powerful.
LOU ADAMS: Yeah.
CRAIG MELVIN: You’re saving lives.
LOU ADAMS: Yeah. I just think I have the know how , and the will for the kids to understand there’s more to life than that.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: BACK ON THE COURT, LOU COACHED THE BOYS TO WIN AFTER WIN. ALL THE WAY TO THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. A WIN HERE WOULD REINFORCE EVERYTHING LOU HAD EVER TOLD THEM — THAT HARD WORK PAYS OFF. THE WHOLE STATE WOULD BE WATCHING. THEY WERE PLAYING AGAINST MOUNT CARMEL — A SCHOOL FROM DOWNSTATE.
RICK TELANDER: Orr smoked them. They beat them in every possible category.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: LOU’S BOYS WON — 59 TO 39. THE UNDERDOGS FROM ORR – THE SCHOOL SO USED TO BEING OVERLOOKED — WERE STATE CHAMPS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.
CRAIG MELVIN: I saw the video of you and Danny in this hug. What’d you say to him? What did he say to you? It looked like that was more than just a hug.
LOU ADAMS: I said, “I told you I was going to get you there. I got you. I told you.” “I got you, Coach.”
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: THE WIN MEANT EVERYTHING …
DANNIE SMITH: A lot of people, they start– congratulating me, like walking up to me, like people I’ve never seen before in my life, never met.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER: AND THOSE COLLEGE RECRUITERS LOU WAS HOPING WOULD TAKE NOTICE? THEY DID …
LOU ADAMS: A kid from Orr getting a call from Northwestern. Wow. That say– it speaks volume. A kid from Orr gets a phone call from Northwestern.
CRAIG MELVIN VOICE OVER:A FEW DAYS LATER, THERE WAS A PEP RALLY FOR THE TEAM. THE WHOLE SCHOOL TURNED OUT. LOU GOT UP TO MAKE A SPEECH. HE DIDN’T GET VERY FAR.
LOU ADAMS: When you got the school, you know, kids that don’t know anything about basketball saying, “We love you coach,” and–
CRAIG MELVIN: It still makes you a little emotional?
LOU ADAMS: Yeah.
CRAIG MELVIN: Why?
LOU ADAMS: Wow. A lot of times people don’t say I love you till you’re dead. I can’t hear you then. You know what I mean? So to say that while I’m living and me knowing that you mean it. It didn’t hit me until the pep rally. When I really know that, “Okay. You made something out of nothing to be whole. You did good. You did good.”