PARK MANOR — Chase Adams is the star of one of the most popular basketball mixtapes.
Adams was a pint-sized seventh grader at Ariel Community Academy in Kenwood when he flashed skills beyond his years on the 2013 “Ballislife” video, “4 ’11 Chase Adams has Better Handles Than You!”
The video by Ballislife’s Scott Comeau — with over 16 million views — turned Adams into one of the most recognizable players in youth basketball. But his journey since his viral moment hasn’t been easy.
Now 22 and 5’8″, he’s endured personal tragedy and setbacks. He’s struggled to find his fit in collegiate basketball, spending last year playing at junior college in Utah. Adams is getting a second shot at Division 1 basketball next year when he will join the roster at Jackson State University, a historically Black university in Mississippi.
Adams said people still recognize him from the video and ask for pictures and autographs after all his games.
“I want to be more than an internet sensation, because that term puts you in a box,” Adams said. “But I also know when I play, someone is always watching. That’s what wakes me up.”
Adams grew up in Park Manor and around the South Side. A top-ranked point guard going into high school, Adams won a state championship at Orr Academy High School on the West Side in 2018.
Adams took a bonus year of high school at Link Year Prep in Missouri in hopes of landing Division 1 offers. He wound up at the University of Portland, played well his first year and proved he could “compete at a high-level at my size,” Adams said.
But Adams was out of the lineup his sophomore year. His older brother and best friend, Drake Adams, died of a seizure years earlier. Still grieving that loss and looking to change schools, Adams said he was in a “dark place mentally.”
“I needed to find myself on that court again,” Adams said. “I had to play free, like that kid in the video again.”
Other Chicago standouts outgrew Adams and went to the NBA.
“I could be the biggest hater in the world, I went from the top of the world to watching my closest peers go there instead,” Adams said. “But I understand that my path is my path.”
A coach at Salt Lake Community College was the first to call, promising a starting spot and a chance to rejuvenate his career. Adams was reluctant at first, but took the offer and found himself “around all white people and a lot of mountains,” away from the noise and with plenty of time to get in the gym.
He led Salt Lake to the National Junior College championship game last season.
“Going there was the best thing I could have done,” Adams said. “I focused and worked. I discovered my skin is tougher than what I thought.”
He received multiple Division 1 offers and committed to Jackson State to play for rookie coach and NBA all-star Mo Williams. Adams said he’s also looking forward to being at an HBCU, where he hopes to “learn more about my culture.”
Adams said he wants to lead Jackson State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
“I want to make sure when I’m done, I give back to the game all the talent I got,” Adams said. “Because talent is temporary. The hype is temporary.”
That hype from the mixtape still finds him, though.
Adams said he doesn’t rewatch the viral video but he often receives messages from young players all over the world who do and ask for advice: “I play and I’m under six feet, what do I do?”
“I’m relatable because I wasn’t blessed to pass the eye test to play the game,” Adams said. “Small not tall, using talent not athleticism, speed not jumping. It feels achievable to everyone watching.”
Slovenian brothers Tim and Nik Ferenc saved for three years to travel to the U.S. to watch Adams play. Tim Ferenc said he and his brother run the “Official Chase Adams Fan Page” on Instagram.
“We play basketball, too, and growing up we always watched the mixtape. Our motto is ‘Heart Over Height,’” Tim Ferenc said. “That’s what we all have in common.”
Adams said he’s “humbled” anytime someone brings up the video. He’s back in Chicago this summer working on his game.
He said he hopes to continue inspiring players who might be overlooked. His late brother used to remind him, “‘This is bigger than just you, and it’s bigger than just basketball,’” Adams said.
“There must be a purpose for me having this platform,” Adams said. “I’m playing for everyone who is still watching.”
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