Former Nevada High School head boys' basketball coach, Dave Adams.(Submitted photo)
The 1990-91 Nevada High School boys' basketball team was unquestionably the greatest in the 79-year history of the program. Guided by former head coach Dave Adams, the Tigers won their first 30 games of the season before falling in the Class 3A State Championship game to Festus, 77-63 in Springfield.
Adams, who graduated from Metz High School in 1976, was Nevada's head boys' coach from 1985-96, winning five district championships and collecting four Southwest Conference crowns.
In 11 seasons Adams compiled an overall record of 183-116. Prior to arriving at NHS, Adams had coaching stints with the Walker High's boys' and girls' teams (1980-82) and the Rich Hill boys' and girls' teams (1982-85). Adams led the 1984-85 Rich Hill Lady Tigers to the Class 1A Final Four.
The 1990-91 NHS team reigns as the program's gold standard, with the most victories in a single-season (30); longest winning streak (30); highest winning percentage (.968); and best postseason finish (State runner-up).
"What made the '91 team so good was its chemistry," Adams recently told the Daily Mail. "They really enjoyed playing the game. It was just a magical time when I think back to it. It was really a special group of guys. Everybody had a goal of winning and doing what was best for the team."
The senior-laden Tigers had several underclassmen who cracked the rotation.
"We had seniors who weren't playing as much as some of the underclassmen," Adams noted. "But there was never any griping or complaining. Everybody was unified and committed to being the best that they could be."
One of the team's eight seniors, point guard Chris Smith, sits atop Nevada's all-time scoring list with 1,741 career points. Smith had an MVP caliber-season while leading Nevada through the Southwest Conference grind, averaging 31.5 points and 10 assists per game. Smith dropped in 50 points during a matchup with Neosho and 48 against Mexico.
"Chris made everyone around him better," Adams said. "He had an incredible season. And we had guys like Joe Swearingen, Treg Brown and Todd Jones who were just really good high school basketball players, who played their roles."
Adams said winning 30 consecutive contests was "pretty cool."
"Unfortunately, the one we lost (to Festus) still haunts me a little bit," he said. "The fact that we were able to go undefeated during the regular-season (25-0) was the big accomplishment. The postseason is separate all to itself, and you have to have things line up (to make a deep run)."
Adams continued: "And we certainly had things line up for us going into the postseason. We didn't have any major injuries. We had an opportunity to make a postseason run the year before, but Chris had an injury that hampered him and we got knocked off in the sectional game."
Adams said Nevada beat a quality Webb City High School squad four times during the 90-91 season. Additionally, the Tigers claimed a trio of regular-season tournament championships, winning the Carthage, Clinton and Aurora tournaments.
Adams said the Tigers were dealt their first blow when they lost a key player to injury, as 6-foot-5 sophomore center Patrick Sperry went down in the Class 3A semifinals.
"Our whole routine got thrown off," said the legendary NHS coach. "And (against Festus in title game) we just had one of those nights. We had a rough start, then made a furious comeback and fell short."
Adams said he stays in contact with players from the team, and is "proud of the men they've grown into."
"It was a really great group of kids, and I cherish that season to this day," he said. "The atmosphere was fun every day in practice."
Adams coaching staff that year consisted of familiar names to Nevada athletics: Kevin McKinley and John McNeley. McKinley is a former Nevada teacher and athletic director, while McNeley took the reins of the boys' basketball program in the fall of '96 and remained on the sidelines for 18 seasons. McNeley then retired from coaching in 2014 to take over as the school's athletic director.
Adams said both McKinley and McNeley were invaluable to the team's success.
"There's two guys who were Nevada High School graduates and were so great to work with," Adams said. "They were great role models for the kids."
McNeley shared his thoughts about Adams and the team.
"There were many admirable attributes that made the 1990-91 team so successful," McNeley said. "Coach Adams did a great job with this team. His ability to create a willingness among team members to accept their role was a major key, and allowed us to be our best as a team. This team also expected to win. And that was a major factor in pulling out victories at Neosho, over Webb City at home, and versus Kansas City Southwest in sectional play.
McNeley continued: "Chris Smith was sensational and the best passer I have ever seen at any level of basketball. But, he was a piece (maybe a little larger than some of the others) of a puzzle that came together because of the character of our players. They simply wanted to win and that goes a long way in the world of competitive athletics."
McNeley, who was a young assistant that season, is Nevada's all-time winningest boys' head coach with 228 career victories.
"From Coach Dave Adams on down, this team was a great ambassador for Nevada High School and the Nevada community," he said.
McKinley echoed McNeley's sentiments.
"The thing I remember most about the 90-91 team was they were exceptionally smart basketball players from top to bottom," he said, adding, "very fundamentally sound and extremely coachable."
McKinley, a standout forward, starred on the hardwood for the Tigers from 1979-82 and is currently 17th on the all-time scoring list with 918 career points.
"They played very hard and were extremely unselfish," McKinley continued. "Their passing skills, fundamental post play, defensive aggressiveness and mental toughness put them in a class by themselves. They remain the yardstick by which all (NHS boys' teams) are measured."
The current season has also been one of the most impressive in school history, as the Tigers defeated Warrensburg 51-42 Tuesday night to advance to the district championship game. Nevada (23-3) is currently on an 18-game win streak. Adams said he has been following Nevada's terrific season every step of the way. Parallels can be drawn between the 1990-91 and 2016-17 teams, as both won three regular-season tournament championships.
"Listen to your coach and stay focused on the goal of being successful," Adams said of the advice he would give Nevada, the No. 2 seed in the Class 4 District 12 tournament. Adams concluded, "Be good teammates to each other, play hard, and have fun.
"They've had a great season and I wish them nothing but the best."
Adams post-coaching career
Upon retiring from coaching in the spring of '96, Adams took an administrative position within the Nevada R5 School District. After 20 years split between coaching, teaching, and an administrative role with R5, Adams left in the fall of 2005 to become principal of Blue Springs High School in suburban Kansas City.
Adams spent nine years in that position before relocating to the district's central office, where he has served as assistant superintendent for the past three years. Adams wife Shelly was a graduate of Nevada High. They have two adult children, Ryan and Hillary, both NHS grads.
(Note: Career coaching records provided by Kevin McKinley)