CHICAGO – Virginia’s Ty Jerome first met Purdue’s Carsen Edwards under the intense spotlight of an Elite Eight showdown at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center.
In the following weeks, the guards became clients of the same agency and NBA draft combine invitees. But that first meeting — in the frantic back-and-forth of a classic NCAA tournament game — provided Jerome a key insight into Edwards as both a player and person.
“We were coming back and I hit a 3 and I got passionate,” said Jerome, later sidestepping a follow-up asking him to better define ‘passionate.’ “Then he got a bucket and he got passionate.
“We just had a few words and laughed it off. It was a cool exchange. I think we both just enjoy competing and it’s cool to see off and on the court. It’s cool to be with someone every day that enjoys competing who’s a cool kid.”
Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, another former opponent-turned-roster mate of Priority Sports, essentially said the same. Through the NBA draft process he got to know another side of the player he battled in the Big Ten — a joker with “no ego,” as the Terrapin big man put it.
Edwards’ second trip through the NBA draft pre-draft experience has better defined to many of his fellow prospects. What remains to be seen is how well Edwards will define himself for the NBA teams who may ultimately select him on June 20.
Unlike his experience a year ago, Edwards has committed himself to staying in the draft. He said he finished his school work for the semester but was still able to leave early to begin training with his agency. He knew what was coming and how to prepare, and that anticipation may be reflected in his improvements in both the lane agility drill (11.55 last year to 10.53 Thursday) and the shuttle run (3.15 to 2.82).
Mock drafts have mentioned Edwards as a possible selection for teams in search of a backup point guard and teams in need of a scoring burst off the bench. While questions always lingered as to whether he could prove himself as the former, Edwards kept proving himself as the latter.
“My role for the team last year for Purdue was just to score the ball and be able to score at a high level,” said Edwards, who went through measurements and strength and agility drills but did not play in the combine’s 5-on-5 scrimmages. “It was tough to show that role. I feel like at times I needed to and I tried to, and I’m still working on it now.”
Edwards made 21-of-25 shots from the various 15-foot stations Thursday at Quest Multisport. He made 16-of-25 from NBA 3-point range — including a 5-for-5 effort at the top of the key.
The lasting impression Edwards made on the basketball world came in that overtime loss to eventual national champion Virginia. Edwards made 10-of-19 3s en route to 42 points and captured the imagination of NBA fans who hoped to capture that lightning in a bottle on draft night.
Asked Thursday what impressed him most about Edwards, Virginia guard Kyle Guy said: “That we played great defense and he still made every shot.”
If an NBA team selects him in search of that instant jolt of offense, there are some — Edwards included — who feel the spacing and pace of the NBA may better suit his game.
“I still have so much to work on in those regards,” Edwards said. “But also I do feel like it, especially (the NBA) being so up-and-down, fast-paced, high-tempo, short shot clock, along with pick-and-rolls and being a guard-oriented league. I feel comfortable with that.”
Edwards knew some NBA teams could not define him as 1 or 2 or something in between as he emerged from last summer’s evaluation process. Players of his size — 6 foot and a quarter in shoes, per the combine measurements — typically drift toward a facilitator role if they stick in the NBA.
At Purdue, where Edwards occasionally brought the ball up but never operated as a true point guard, he had limited opportunity to prove himself in that role. Prior to the season, coach Matt Painter made clear the 2018 Jerry West Award winner would operate as a high-volume shooting option.
Jerome, who said his superior height and Edwards’ superior explosiveness have created some mutually beneficial matchups during training, sees no reason to define Edwards’ game at this stage.
“Honestly, I think the outside world puts limitations on people,” Jerome said. “A team may draft him and want him to come off the bench and get baskets. In workouts, I’ve seen him run the 1 and command an offense when we play 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5.
“He has a real good handle. But his true self is a basket-getter. If a team allows him to do that next year he’ll excel in that too. I wouldn’t put that limitation on him.”
Prior to signing with an agency, Edwards worked out extensively in recent years with Zionsville-based trainer Joey Burton.
Burton said he did not approach Edwards’ training under the stricture of eventually making him a point guard. Rather, they focused on a variety of actions he might encounter as a player with the ball in his hands a lot. Coming off of ball screens, moving off of handoffs, game clock and shot clock scenarios — the workouts emphasized decision-making.
Burton believes Edwards has the skills, work ethic and —perhaps most importantly — the confidence necessary to make the NBA transition. He envisions a path similar to one taken by another former client: Yogi Ferrell.
The former Indiana point guard was waived during his rookie season, but ended it with a multi-year contract. In his second season, even after the Dallas Mavericks drafted another point guard in Dennis Smith, Ferrell adjusted and played all 82 games in the 2017-18 season.
“He is who he is and does what he does and takes advantage of the opportunities he is given,” Burton said of Edwards. “He definitely has the work ethic. He was constantly staying in the gym throughout the year.
“Even when he was slumping it was never, ‘Oh, I’m frustrated. The extra work’s not paying off.’ It was, ‘Let’s keep working.’ He has that.”
Edwards said he has met with several teams and has more scheduled, but could name only Denver, Golden State, Miami and Portland.
With the draft more than a month out, Edwards said instead of trying to predict his role, he is preparing to perfect whichever one he is handed.
“I’ve just got to get one team to love me, and if they love me and invest in me I’m going to give them everything I have and also try to fill in that role,” Edwards said. “I’m just working hard, trying to be prepared for wherever I go or wherever I land, whatever happens. I try to be ready.”