By: Ethan Fuller
The end of the 2019-20 season marked the end of one of the most unique careers in Boston University basketball history. Adam Mikula, a sharpshooting guard from East Boston, finished a stunning evolution from student manager to Patriot League champion when BU defeated Colgate just over two weeks ago.
Mikula joined the Terriers as a manager, leveled up to a practice player, walked onto the team his junior year and earned a full scholarship as a senior. His perseverance, positivity and leadership became hallmarks on and off the court. While he scored just five points in college, Mikula’s leadership made him an irreplaceable piece of BU’s title run. He even told his story to Steve Buckley of The Athletic in February, describing how he made a batch of oatmeal for almost every school day and commuted from home during his first years at BU.
Mikula talked to Ethan Fuller on Thursday about his unprecedented journey through college hoops.
Ethan Fuller: When you weren’t an official player, what reminded you that you had this ability — that you could be on this team?
Adam Mikula: There was this instance, going into my freshman year — I would go to FitRec a lot and practice there a ton — and I remember me and my friend played two-on-two against Justin Alston [former BU forward] and one of his friends at that time. I think he challenged us, and I remember they were really competitive two-on-twos. Justin couldn’t just play a perimeter game, he had to take me into the post, and I thought, alright, I’m doing something right.
I think they won the series eventually, but I think it went to a game seven. I think we won the first two or three, but then he kinda just took me into the post and kept scoring. Not much you can do there. But I remember that day just gave me a huge confidence boost; I think I belong, you know? I think I can play at this level.
EF: Freshman year, you thought you would be more of a practice player, but you said [to The Athletic] that you first were tasked with cleaning up wet spots on the court. How did you adjust to that manager role?
AM: To be completely honest, it was very disappointing. Even going into that first summer I was working very hard, and for that kind of opportunity to not even be there was definitely a letdown. I would be trying to shoot in front of the coaches in between drills and thought, maybe, they’ll notice me. But little by little I had to realize that’s really not my role in this position. But it motivated me more.
My goal — it was an interesting goal, and it was kind of inspired by Duncan Robinson [now on the Miami Heat]. I remember reading an article when he first transferred to Michigan and he was a redshirt. The coach there would always look at him on the bench and want to put him in, but he wasn’t eligible to play. And I kinda wanted my own version of that — oh, maybe Coach will think he can use me in some way, but he can’t yet. So I always wanted to prove my worth in whatever way I could.
(A cool note: when Mikula was a teenager playing for Boston Latin, he actually went up against Robinson in the Jeffries Point 5 on 5 Classic — a local tournament near Mikula’s neighborhood.)
EF: What was your relationship like with Max [Mahoney] as you kind of became this player?
AM: He’s one of the nicest dudes on the team. He was one of the guys who was really supportive of everything, and he would try to help me out and give me advice if possible. I would try to ask him some things if I could, along with older guys like Will Goff. I tried to take it year-by-year and understand when I could ask him certain things because, you know, they don’t have that trust right away. Over the last couple years I became more of a leader and people started to trust me.
EF: How important was it for you to carve the role you had as a positive presence on the team?
AM: I really took pride in it. If people get to know me personally I’m pretty quiet and shy, but I felt like I really owed it to my teammates to help them. I took great pride in bringing energy to the team because that’s something I can completely control and it’s something the team needed. I always wanted to be there for each player; I always made it an emphasis to talk to guys one-on-one, ask them what’s going on, how can I help — even just being an ear to vent to. It made me feel like my role was bigger than what I was producing on the court.
EF: So for your senior year, the team made a pseudo-film session that ended up being your scholarship reveal. How did that feel?
AM: I love sharks — I’ve loved them my whole life. So the beginning of the video was a shark segment, like from National Geographic, and I was so confused. And then a minute and a half in Max Mahoney just pops up and I was like, woah, hold on, what’s he doing? And then I realized: oh [expletive], I think I’m getting a scholarship.
It just put so much less pressure on my family. To be honest, of my day-to-day worries, I would say a good majority of them were financially related. Just trying to figure how I’m gonna eat today, am I able to get into the dining hall with one of the guys, how am I gonna pay for textbooks, stuff like that. I was super thankful to everybody and all of the coaches because as much as you think it’ll happen, it’s a different feeling when it actually happens.
EF: Do you still eat oatmeal at all?
AM: I eat oatmeal once every few months at this point, but I still have some oatmeal shakes. So it’s in a new form.
EF: Senior Day, you get put into the starting lineup. What did that feel like for you?
AM: It felt great. I felt ready. My emphasis coming into the game was just being really active on defense. I can’t let any little slip-ups happen because that’s gonna hurt the team, so I was really focused on that coming into the game.
EF: What was it like to have that moment to hold the championship trophy?
AM: It’s just surreal. That whole episode after — it was just incredible because this is one of the biggest achievements that I’ve had in life, and as a team we all got to share that moment. This was what we’d been talking about all season, more than any other time. I feel like we emphasized it almost every day. It just felt like it was meant to be when we finally got to hold that trophy.
EF: With cancellations and life as a whole really changing, how have you processed the last two weeks?
AM: It was a few days of joy and absolute gratitude that we even got to play in the championship game. We really were blessed to have that opportunity. But then when everyone started leaving, that’s when it got real — oh man, my season’s over, my semester’s over, my time at BU is basically over. That was an emotional time, just saying goodbye to all my teammates and not knowing when I’ll see them again because there’s a lot of uncertainty going around.
EF: Are you still working out now or is it just a weird waiting period?
AM: I’m still working out a little bit. I’m going back to my roots and actually practicing outside. That’s kinda how I practiced my whole teenage years, so I’m going back to my local courts. It’s a great experience; it’s kind of like a forced reflection of, this is where you started and look at where you are now. So I’m just getting some shots up there and going to lift occasionally. There’s a weight room park thing near my house, so I’m going there and doing some basic upper-body stuff and lower-body stuff.
EF: What are you interested in and what are you hoping to pursue now that you’ve essentially graduated?
AM: It’s kind of up in the air at the moment. I’m a little grateful for this hiatus period because it gives me some time to think about what I want to do. But I do have a couple of years of eligibility possibly, so I definitely want to stay in relative basketball shape in case that’s something I want to pursue. And I just want to finish strong academically and stay in touch somewhat with job leads. I’ve been talking to a couple of companies here in Boston, and everything’s grinding to a halt right now, but I think I’ll have options for what I want to do. But I definitely don’t want to rush into anything at the moment.
EF: If you look back on these four years, where are you most proud of your growth?
AM: I would just say my confidence as a leader. I’m not always super outspoken, but I really felt I got comfortable in my role on the team, and I feel like everybody really felt like I had the best intentions at heart, so they would listen to me accordingly. It’s kind of a change in character because I’m not like that in day-to-day life, so I’m proud of that.
And in a more shallow way, I feel like physically I’ve improved so much from being in the weight room. It’s interesting to see because it’s something that goes overstated, but the physical challenges of Division I basketball are way more than you could possibly think of. And that’s something I wasn’t ready for coming in, but I really feel like I’ve adapted to it well. That’s a personal achievement, I would say.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Featured image courtesy of Hannah Yoshinaga.