One look at Justin Edwards is all it takes to understand why Kansas State is an improved basketball team.
The senior guard is finally playing up to his potential.
No longer lost in Bruce Weber’s system, Edwards is beginning to flash the skills that made him a touted transfer when he left Maine two years ago. He has successfully made the transition from reserve to starter. Now he is making a push for all-conference honors.
Here’s how good Edwards has been this season. He leads K-State in five major statistical categories — points (14.8), rebounds (6.1), assists (3.8), steals (1.8), and minutes (31.1). He’s one of eight Division I players to lead his team in each category, and one of four in a major conference. The others are Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Oregon State’s Gary Payton II and LSU’s Ben Simmons. Talk about good company.
“That’s pretty good numbers,” Weber said. “For anyone.”
Quite an improvement from his debut season with the Wildcats in which he averaged 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 21.1 minutes. His production has nearly doubled.
K-State has improved right along with him. At 7-1, with the only loss coming in the final game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic against North Carolina, the Wildcats are off to an encouraging start. Last year, they started 4-4.
Early victories against Missouri and Georgia have fans excited about the remainder of the season. They can further validate their success at Texas A&M on Saturday. A road victory against a team that owns wins over Gonzaga and Texas would likely earn K-State votes in the national polls.
“They will be as talented as any team we play,” Weber said. “Not just in our nonconference, but in our league, too.”
K-State will ask Edwards to lead the way. Though the Wildcats have shown impressive balance behind Edwards — all five starters average 8.4 or more points — he is the catalyst.
Someone had to step up in the absence of Marcus Foster and a throng of other players who left last season. Edwards, from Canada, was hyped as an elite playmaker at Maine, where he led the America East Conference in scoring as a sophomore, but he was nothing more than a role player with K-State last season. He wasn’t properly prepared for road environments or the intensity of conference play.
No one has benefited more from the team’s new beginning.
“I took my summer a lot more serious this year, Edwards said. “I worked out a lot more. It’s just confidence. I have a lot more confidence this year and my role is a lot bigger this year. Just filling that role and playing with confidence is the difference for me.”
He is best known for his athleticism and dunking ability, but he has learned to focus on all areas.
“I just try to play my game and do everything I can to help my team win,” Edwards said. “If that is doing all that stuff then I am going to keep doing it. I want to keep winning. Late last year I started to break out of my shell a little bit and got my confidence back. I just tried to carry it over.”
So far he has. And K-State is a stronger team because of it.
“Justin has been what our team needs,” said junior guard Wesley Iwundu, who is also off to a strong start averaging 12.6 points. “The chemistry between us is great, the backdoor lobs and fastbreaks. Over the years we’ve made that connection, not only on the court but also off the court. It’s good for the team. We just need to keep building off of it.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett