ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Jeff Adrien hadn’t even arrived in Milwaukee when his new teammates begun singing his praises.
Unprompted, O.J. Mayo and John Henson’s postgame interviews on the night of the trade turned into both expressing their thoughts on what Adrien could bring to the Bucks.
Little did they know it would take just five games for the former Connecticut star to make an impression.
"I think every guy on our team would clearly admit that we haven’t had a pit bull on this team. Now we got one," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "That’s a good feeling. I’m not saying Jeff is going to go out there and stop everybody, but Jeff is going to bring a level of toughness that you’ve got to have. That’s who that kid is.
"There’s nothing sexy about him, but the guy gets it done."
Many adjectives have been tossed around to describe Adrien’s all-out, relentless style of play. The 6-foot-7 power forward relies on hustle and effort to survive in the basketball world where many at his position are taller and bigger.
"I don’t think there’s a name for it," Adrien said. "Whatever it is, just get the job done. I call it ‘beast mode.’"
Whatever the label, he’s exactly what the Bucks and Drew were longing for. Adrien understands the type of player he has to be to make it in the NBA and has embraced his role. He has double-digit rebounds in four of the five games he’s played with the Bucks, averaging 9.6 rebounds in 19.6 minutes.
At a staggering 0.49 rebounds per minute, Adrien is averaging 17.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in his short time with the Bucks.
"He treats that paint like it’s his home and he doesn’t want anybody in his house," Drew said. "You can certainly feel his presence when he plays in the game. He goes after everything off the glass."
Undrafted after finishing his stellar collegiate career at Connecticut, Adrien’s journey began in Spain and has led him to Italy, Russia and the NBA’s Developmental League.
His first crack at playing in the NBA came in the 2010-11 season when he appeared in 23 games with Golden State. Then it was eight games with Houston the following year before getting his first real chance with Charlotte in 2012-13. Adrien played 52 games for the Bobcats last season and had seen time in 30 games this year before the trade that sent him and Ramon Sessions to Milwaukee for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour.
Adrien had 10 rebounds in 17 minutes in Charlotte’s 96-72 victory over the Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in November.
"I’m glad he’s with us," Henson said. "That was one of the tougher guys to box out in this league, in my opinion. I’m glad he’s on my side."
Carrying a career 11.2 rebounding average per 36 minutes, Adrien didn’t always consider himself to be a strong rebounder. It took a Midnight Madness event during his freshman season at Connecticut to open his eyes to the type of player he needed to become.
Over his time with the Huskies, coach Jim Calhoun continued to mold Adrien’s game to where he felt he needed to be to have the best chance to make it professionally.
"(The public address announcer) said, ‘Jeff Adrien, a freshman, is a tremendous rebounder,’" Adrien said. "I had no idea I was a tremendous rebounder until I really started playing and understood rebounding can carry over to any level."
Maybe the biggest breath of fresh air with Adrien is he knows his place on a roster. Not the most skilled player in the league, Adrien is never going to average double figures in points. But he’s a guy teams need at the end of the bench.
"You have to have somebody that’s willing to do dirty work," Drew said. "Everybody can’t do the cute things or the pretty things. Somebody has to do the ugly work. When a guy knows that what he is, you are going to put him out there.
"There’s just not enough guys in our league willing to do the dirty work and not score. You probably won’t see his name a ton of times in the paper, but I go back the next day and see what he’s doing. I want those kind of guys on my team."
Adrien learned the importance of knowing his role from Bobcats coach Steve Clifford. The first-year coach hammered home to each player where they stood with the team and what was going to be asked of them.
"It was really clear," Adrien said. "He also let us know that it wasn’t really going to change no matter what team you are on. You aren’t going to be a scorer on one and not one on another. You are going to be what you are on every team. That’s what I try to do."
The trade has presented Adrien with an opportunity to show what he can do. Unlike Sessions, Adrien wasn’t playing much with the Bobcats. Coming off the bench as the backup power forward, the 28-year-old is getting the most playing time of his career at 19.6 minutes per game.
"I don’t know the numbers or anything," Adrien said. "I just know we’re playing a lot better after this trade. We’re playing pretty well in these five games. I’m just getting a chance and an opportunity. The team is believing in me and is letting me play through my mistakes. It’s been fun. I’m playing basketball all over again. It’s the thing I love to do."
Adrien’s contract expires after the season, but a strong final 23 games could go a long way in the Bucks bringing him back next year.
"So far, so good," Adrien said. "You never know what can happen in this league. I think if I keep working hard and keep doing what I do, I think the future would be bright (with the Bucks).
"I’m a person that has to prove myself every day. There’s no days off."