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Monday, April 21, 10:14 a.m.
Sports

UMaine’s Edwards excels on hard court

Haley Johnston

University of Maine men’s basketball freshman guard Justin Edwards has got game.

The 6-foot-2-inch Canadian has excelled early in his first season, averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game — a high number for a guard. It makes sense, though, when factoring in his vertical — 36 inches — and his genes.

“My mom went to Indiana and did track and field. My dad went to Syracuse and played basketball for a year before coming back to Canada to keep playing,” Edwards said.

Edwards grew up an only child and was surrounded by the game during his childhood.

“I was raised around basketball as an only child with my parents playing in local leagues growing up,” he said. “Basketball was always a part of my life. I used to play soccer, but basketball really started to take off in eighth grade.”

Edwards outgrew the high school competition early on, admitting games didn’t always hold his interest.

“High school was way easier for me. I could take plays off and still do what I needed to do to be the best player,” he said. “Now there is no way I can take a play off, I can’t slack on defense, I need to play 100 percent or I will get exposed. I just wanted to be a role player and help the team out any way that I could.”

So far this season, Edwards has been more than a role player — he’s been a vital component. In the Black Bears’ two wins this season, Edwards has been UMaine’s leading scorer.

Heavily recruited out of high school, Edwards came to UMaine after UMaine coaches traveled to Canada to watch him play.

“The coaches came to my games in Canada and made promises to me,” Edwards said. “They told me it was a great opportunity and I was promised playing time early. [The University of] Missouri and Fresno State [University] promised things, but I didn’t know if they meant them. The key to Maine was loyalty, and the things they promised I knew I was going to get. I like it here.”

Despite his obvious talent, Edwards had elements of his game to improve upon his arrival at UMaine. While his ability to attack the rim is immense, Edwards’ jump shot is lacking and head coach Ted Woodward hopes to turn some of his athleticism into an all-defensive selection.

“My worst part is pull-up jumpers. I just don’t take them right now,” Edwards said. “[Woodward] told me to play within the system and always be on the attack. His goal for me is to make the all-defensive team. I will work on my defensive game.”

Edwards has aspirations to play at the next level and recently received a stamp of approval from two-time NBA MVP and fellow Canadian, Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, who started following Edwards on Twitter.

As far as this year’s team, Edwards is confident in their chances of playing into March.

“I can see us making it to March Madness,” he said. “I want to win the conference.”

If the Black Bears do win, Edwards will certainly have been a big part of the success.