Responsible for the most famous rebound in Razorback women’s basketball history, Tennille Adams is now making history as a Division I women’s basketball assistant coach and recruiter.
One of the top 50 recruits in the country, the young post player from East Chicago, Ill., Adams was a Parade All-American when signed with the Razorbacks in 1995. Part of then assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Tom Collen’s highly ranked 1995 class, Adams was a member of two of the greatest Arkansas teams.
After a NWIT freshman season and beating Tennessee as a sophomore, Adams’ junior season saw her as a key player off the bench for the Razorbacks at the post backing senior Karen Jones and sophomore Karyn Karlin.
"No one expected us to win," Adams recalled of the 1998 NCAA run. "After each game we would sit on the bus and say ‘one more game, we gotta prove one more person wrong."
In the showdown with Duke, Adams came off the bench once again, battling against the 6-6 anchor of the Blue Devils, Michele VanGorp.
At 6-1, Adams not only held her own, but commanded the lane. Adams played only 17 minutes, but scored 14 points off 6-of-9 from the field and was Arkansas’ leading rebounder with six. She matched VanGorp’s 14 points, but the Duke star had only two rebounds.
Arkansas’ one-point half time lead, 32-31, had withered in the second half as the eighth-ranked Blue Devils were trying to fulfill their expected arrival at the 1998 Final Four.
Adams had other thoughts, and it was her rebound and stick-back inside the final minute that gave Arkansas the lead for good. Her shot set the stage for the more often remembered four free throws by her teammate and fellow Hoosier Christy Smith that iced the win.
"Naturally, the commentators picked Duke to advance to the Final Four," Adams said. "But what they failed to realize is that had been our motivating factor the entire tournament. They forgot that Christy Smith was one of the best point guards in the country that year, or that Sytia Messer as an offensive assassin with the heart of a lion. They underestimated the fact that we played in the toughest conference in women’s basketball."
Her senior year, Adams was one of two returning starters that guided the Razorbacks through a tough, up-and-down regular season. The Women’s NIT gave the 1998 Final Four players a chance for redemption.
Roaring through the opening rounds at home, Arkansas hosted the title game at Walton Arena in front of a crowd of 14,163 – the first time the upper deck was opened for a women’s basketball game.
Adams and the seniors were playing for teammate Sytia Messer, who saw her 128 game streak of consecutive games snapped in the tournament final due to her mother’s sudden heart attack the night before the game.
Scoring 13 points in the final against Wisconsin, Adams was one of three Razorbacks in double-digits as Arkansas won the title, 67-64.
Adams finished her career ranked 37th in scoring at Arkansas with 637 points and 26th all-time in rebounding with 396, playing in 127 games in her four year career.
"I think there are few colleges that put such emphasis on women’s athletics at the time, and it was not just basketball," Adams said. "We had the best support, trainers and facilities, and I also felt that Arkansas equipped me with the necessary tools to continue my success after athletics."
Working in private business briefly after graduation, Adams began her coaching career at Lon Morris Junior College in 2004. She moved up to the Division I ranks in her next stop as an assistant for North Carolina A&T. Two years at A&T led Adams to American University in Washington, D.C.
As the recruiting lead assistant for American, Adams caught the eye of cross town George Washington University head coach Joe McKeown. When the veteran GWU head coach left this past spring for Northwestern University, he reached out to bring Adams along to the Big 10.
This past season, Adams had the chance to return to Bud Walton Arena as the Wildcats started a home-and-home series with the Razorbacks. Arkansas won the meeting this past November, 60-44.
The University of Arkansas’ Athletic Department recognizes its heritage and the countless contributions made by African-American student-athletes in all 19 of its varsity sports. The Razorbacks are proud to celebrate this great tradition and recognize some of the inspiring pioneers, great student-athletes and outstanding role models that have worn a Razorback uniform as a part of Black History Month.