Noble saw an energetic "gym rat" become a lethargic senior who couldn't finish workouts. For a while, Noble thought Adams was satisfied with the success he had had as a junior. He did not consider drugs because that wasn't Adams' nature. Noble said he took Adams to the clinic three times that season, without resolution.

Adams knew he was sick, but rationalized it away. "Where I'm from, if you don't have insurance, you don't even go to the clinic," he said. "It's like a waste of time."

He also thought Towson would address the problem eventually, give him something to take and he'd be as good as new. Only he couldn't wait that long.

In the spring, a school counselor, appalled at his condition, made an appointment for him at a free clinic on Germantown Avenue. When he arrived, Adams carried a fever of about 104, and doctors, recognizing the symptoms, rushed him to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children for a battery of tests.

On May 8, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a disease of the lymph nodes. But he was at stage 4B, which "is as bad as Hodgkin's gets," according to Dr. Greg Halligan, the chief of oncology at St. Christopher's who treated Adams.

Halligan said Adams' treatment was aggressive both in chemotherapy and radiation. When Adams' body responded well to the heavy early doses, Halligan was able to back off with the radiation. "He tolerated his chemotherapy as well as anyone I've ever seen," Halligan said.

But Halligan couldn't help but be impressed and moved by Adams for another reason, the same one that kept Adams from becoming embittered.

"He has an incredibly optimistic personality," Halligan said. "He never complained. And he is a very warmhearted kid. He had an incredibly gentle spirit with our little guys. Will was a pied piper here in the oncology unit."

By last February, with only a few treatments left, Adams knew he was going to beat the cancer. His thoughts returned to basketball, and that led to still more adversity.

The first time he worked out, he tried to jump — and couldn't get off the ground. Then he tried to grab the net and couldn't touch it. He left the court in a funk, thinking, "I'm done."

But he didn't give up. He started to run and shoot, and gradually he saw progress. At one point, he came to Towson to play with would-be teammates. Once before, he had dominated in this setting. Now, he was getting dominated. "It was a rude awakening," Adams said. "I got killed."

Adams, uncertain and confused, went back to Noble, who recommended prep school. Next stop: Queen City Preparatory Academy in Charlotte, N.C. Again, he struggled. Again, he persevered.

'A great ambassador'

Kennedy had held the door open for Adams at Towson and even visited him in the hospital. But after going 4-26 in 2011, Kennedy was removed as coach.

Adams still wanted to come to Towson. And Skerry wanted to be the guy who believed in his improbable ascension as a Division I player. As an assistant at Providence, Skerry had recruited Adams — although there was no scholarship offer. He knew Adams could shoot (he is Imhotep's all-time leading scorer) and that he had been ill.

When Skerry learned the full story of what Adams had gone through, he knew he had found a leader as well.

"He's as good a kid as you'll find," Skerry said. "He's excited about just being a student-athlete here. He's not an enabler or a guy with a sense of entitlement. I want him to be an unbelievable player here. He can be a role model, not just for other kids, but a lot of people. He's going to be a great ambassador for Towson."

Adams, who gets checkups once a month now, knows he is not all the way back. But he believes that with more hard work he can get there.

"Right now I'm just happy to be able to play basketball again," he said. "I want to be the best I can be and get my degree. … Nobody in my family has a degree right now, nobody in my foster family or anybody else. I want my degree."

Noble said Adams needs that degree for himself and for all the people who supported him. People like Tammy Layne, a former English teacher at Imhotep whom Adams calls "Mom"; Sam Smith, a father figure who let Adams stay at his home when Will's foster home was overrun with foster kids; Hajj, who first lured Adams off the street and onto the basketball court; and Halligan, who went the extra mile to provide Adams with much-needed financial assistance.

"From his social environment, Will could very easily be a kid on the corner peddling something," Noble said. "That's not who he is. I told him, 'Your story could be remarkable … [but] the only way it's remarkable is if you do something special, like getting your college degree.'

"He's a real positive person. I'm really happy for this moment for him. I'm happy he gets to have this opportunity because he's fought through a lot to get where he is."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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