Justin Edwards knew playing basketball for Kansas State was going to be different than playing basketball at Maine. Still, the transfer guard was surprised by the change.
“Intensitywise, players are always playing hard,” Edwards said. “There are no players taking breaks, so you can’t take breaks at all. It is just way more intense than it was at Maine.”
Adjusting to the everyday demands of major college hoops has been difficult for Edwards, a junior who entered his debut season for the Wildcats with sky-high expectations. After watching him drive to the basket for dunk after dunk in practice, sophomore standout Marcus Foster predicted Edwards would surpass him as the team’s leading scorer.
It didn’t seem like that much of a stretch. Edwards led the America East Conference in scoring as a sophomore.
But that goal already seems out of reach with Edwards averaging 6.3 points in his first seven games. Though Edwards has shown flashes of athleticism and versatility, he has also appeared overmatched. During a four-game trip away from Bramlage Coliseum last week, Edwards scored a total of nine points, missing dunks and shooting bricks. He lost his spot in the starting lineup and is now coming off the bench.
His play has been so disappointing that K-State coach Bruce Weber now wonders if he misused him while he sat out a year per NCAA transfer rules.
“We did a disservice to him last year,” Weber said. “We had so many young guys that we probably didn’t take as much time teaching him, and he is kind of starting over in the drills. I mean, he did some things. Don’t get me wrong. But he did a lot of scout team, where now you’re the other team, and when you are the other team you can do what you want. Now, maybe, he is paying for it and we are paying for it a little bit, just picking up some habits.
“My hope is, as we continue to Christmas, he gets some more practice time. Now he knows what it is about, and he needs to make nice strides for us.”
Hope is not lost. Many players have recovered from slow starts and gone on to meet preseason expectations.
Edwards’ teammates created the hype, insisting he was a future star when all they had seen him do was play in pick-up games. They continue to say the same now.
“I have seen Justin do things I have never seen anybody do athletically on the court,” junior forward Stephen Hurt said. “Everybody is coming into their element early in the season. I definitely think he will come around, whether that is now or later in games down the road. We all have faith in what he can do, so no worries.”
Edwards also remains confident about the future.
Though he admits he could have been better prepared for the start of his K-State career, he also says a nagging injury to his left shoulder has held him back. When he felt healthy in K-State’s first two games, he scored 11 points against Southern Utah and 15 against UMKC. Then he went on the road and the pain in his shoulder became so severe that he didn’t think he would play in the Maui Invitational.
When asked how the injury hurt his game, Edwards replied: “Not being able to take contact like I always take contact and being afraid to drive … I could hardly shoot.”
His shoulder is beginning to feel better. Perhaps that is why he was able to score six points against Pittsburgh and nine points against Nebraska-Omaha.
He hit a spinning layup and a three against the Mavericks. His game is trending in the right direction.
“I’m just getting my confidence back,” Edwards said. “After a couple rough games people start to lose confidence. I felt like I was starting to lose confidence, but coach keeps talking to me and telling me to be a player and keep doing what I do. Just getting confidence back is key for me.”
A big showing at Tennessee on Saturday would do the trick.
Edwards thinks he is close to a breakthrough.
“I have been timid,” Edwards said, “so now I am going to come out more aggressive and play the way I normally play.”
Kansas State at Tennessee
When: 2:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Records: KSU 4-3, UT 2-3
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
Willie Carmichael III
Robert Hubbs III
Kansas State (4-3): The Wildcats struggled on their first trip away from home, losing at Long Beach State and going 1-2 at the Maui Invitational, but they think they can use those experiences to their advantage on the road against Tennessee. Nino Williams is coming off one of his best games and so is Jevon Thomas. Transfer forward Stephen Hurt is from Tennessee and is looking forward to playing in front of friends and family.
Tennessee (2-3): The Volunteers have a losing record, but they have put up competitive efforts against Kansas and Marquette. Josh Richardson is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points, while Amari Moore is averaging 12 points. Donnie Tyndall is in his first year coaching Tennessee. Former coach Cuonzo Martin left in the offseason for California.