Gonzaga may have uncovered a rare hidden gem in Ryan Edwards
At a time when top basketball prospects are profiled in magazines in middle school and ranked nationally as early as the fifth grade, it's pretty difficult for an elite player to still be a mystery by his senior year of high school.
Ryan Edwards is one of the few exceptions to that rule.
When the 7-foot, 285-pound center from Kalispell, Mont. chose Gonzaga over Montana and Washington State on Monday, it sent even those in recruiting circles scrambling to figure out who this Class of 2013 big man was. Edwards hasn't received much national publicity since he lives in a town of 20,000 in Northwest Montana and he has chosen to focus solely on high school basketball rather than playing on the club circuit during the summer.
Glacier High coach Mark Harkins isn't sure how Edwards stacks up against his peers from out of state, but he's confident the senior-to-be is one of the better Division I prospects to come out of Montana in recent years. Although Edwards needs to shed weight to avoid being a liability running the floor in college, Harkins touted his deft footwork, soft hands and deceptive athleticism, noting that the big man is a member of the school's state-caliber tennis team.
"When I talked to the coaches who recruited him, what they see in Ryan is that he has incredible feet and incredible hands for someone his size," Harkins said. "He has great touch on the ball. He can shoot the high school 3-point shot with a lot of accuracy. Then he has really begun to develop his low-post game. He's a true center with his back-to-the-basket."
Since only some less high-profile programs in the Pacific Northwest had shown interest in him prior to this summer, Edwards admits it caught even him by surprise when Gonzaga began to recruit him.
Assistant coach Ray Giacoletti called Harkins in May to ask for film of Edwards. Within a month, Zags had offered Edwards a scholarship and had him visit the campus. And on Monday, Edwards decided there was no use dragging the process out any longer, selecting a nationally acclaimed program that is only a four-hour drive from his home.
"Being from Montana you don't get a lot of exposure, so it's kind of hard to believe I'll be playing with a top 25 program," Edwards said. "I don't want to say it was an easy decision, but it wasn't too hard. They told me from the beginning the believe in me."
Edwards intends to drop another 20 pounds this summer by ramping up his conditioning, improving his diet and spending more time in the weight room. He's hopeful that will pay off when he tries to lead Glacier High to a state title next season and when he arrives at Gonzaga the following summer.
If Edwards succeeds at that, Harkins is confident he'll be a pleasant surprise at Gonzaga.
"We're pretty isolated so I don't get to see a lot of kids, but I know Ryan is very gifted," Harkins said. "He's got everything he needs. He has size, great hand-eye coordination and he's really coachable. I don't see enough kids to really compare him around the West Coast, but I know we're pretty excited about him."