What drove Georgia's Anthony Edwards to become a potential No. 1 draft pick

Georgia's Anthony Edwards reacts following a 3-point basket during the second half of a game against the Kentucky Wildcats. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Georgia's Anthony Edwards reacts following a 3-point basket during the second half of a game against the Kentucky Wildcats. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The overrated chants from the Memphis student section started with two minutes left in the first half. Potential No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Edwards stepped to the free-throw line for Georgia, smiling and shaking his head. He hit both free throws to silence the crowd before the Bulldogs went on to a 65-62 win. After the buzzer sounded, Anthony put his hand in the air, smiled and waved goodbye to the crowd.

“That was just like, ‘Bye bye,’ you know? We came in here and got the ‘W’ on a top-10 team,” Edwards told Yahoo Sports after the game.

It was Georgia’s first top-10 win since 2011 and its first top-10 road win since 2004. “Those overrated chants, I’m going to get them in every road game, so we just have to focus on ourselves as a team and work together to get the win every night.”

The rise to the top isn’t something that happened overnight for Edwards. It’s been a journey that started at a very young age. Edwards is the youngest of four kids and was passed down the nickname “Ant Man” from his father the day he was born. He started battling with his older brothers Antoine and Antony on the basketball court at the young age of 4. “I just loved being around the game. They were always just out there playing basketball so I was out there with them,” Edwards said.

Tragedy struck the family when Edwards’ mom Yvette, and his grandmother, Shirley, both died of cancer within eight months. The Georgia guard wears No. 5 to honor both of them passing on the fifth of the month. “That was a really tough time for me,” he explained. “I just remember channeling all my energy into basketball and my brother and I just wanted to keep playing for both my mom and grandma.”

Edwards soon became a gym rat, meeting skills coach and trainer Justin Holland the summer before his ninth grade year.

“The first time I saw Anthony in the gym, I could see he had athleticism off the charts. He didn’t look like your typical 14-year-old,” Holland told Yahoo Sports. “But he wasn’t the total package yet. He had some lazy habits. He couldn’t shoot, had a decent handle but not great, was just OK around the rim and we slowly started to pick apart his game together,” Holland added.

Holland had Edwards in the gym with older Atlanta-based elite players. Each training session he was going against Division I talent like former top prospect and current Florida State guard M.J. Walker. “He grew so much as a player from 15 to 18 and I credit that to putting him in the gym around older, stronger players. Anthony doesn't want to be out-worked and you can’t cheat the process. No one works harder in the gym than him,” Hollands said.

Edwards played his summer ball on the Under Armour Association AAU circuit and quickly became a top player, leading the league in scoring (20 ppg) during the summer of 2018. College coaches packed the gym and Edward’s team, Atlanta Express, became must-watch basketball. It was during that summer when Edwards realized he was one of the top players in the country.

“That summer, I was cookin’,” Anthony said with a smile. “I can remember leading in scoring at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and that’s when it clicked for me. I knew I was one of the best players in the country and it gave me a lot of confidence.”

That confidence carried into his high school season at Holy Spirit (Georgia) where he averaged 25.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. In November 2018, Edwards reclassified from the 2020 recruiting class to the 2019 class and was immediately slotted as a top-three player in the nation. Blue-blood schools like Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina came calling but it was the hometown school Georgia that won over the top guard in the end.

“It’s my home. I want to put the school back on the map and I just felt like it was where I needed to be. Just because you’re a top kid doesn’t mean you have to go to a blue-blood school,” Anthony said.

Jan 7, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs guard Anthony Edwards (5) reacts after a three point shot against the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half at Stegeman Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs guard Anthony Edwards (5) reacts after a three point shot against the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half at Stegeman Coliseum. (Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is the highest-rated player to ever play for Georgia and is one of nine freshmen on the squad this year. Head coach Tom Crean has a pro-style offense, giving Edwards freedom on the floor.

“He’s a special player and can go both ways with the ball,” Crean told Yahoo Sports. “Very rarely can someone that age, 18 years old, go equally that well right or left with the ball. So a lot of times when you have that sort of weaponry inside your game you have to take advantage of it.”

It’s obvious Edwards isn’t afraid to shoot the three. He’s taken seven or more threes in eight games this season but is only shooting 31.9 percent from behind the arc. During his breakout performance against Michigan State at the Maui Invitational, he took 16 threes, making seven of them. Edwards scored 33 points in one half of basketball, garnering the attention of all the NBA scouts in the stands and basketball fans everywhere.

“If I see the ball go in the rim once, the rim just gets big like a hula hoop. And with that game the rim just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Edwards said.

After the game he heard from some players he knows and respects at the NBA level like Donovan Mitchell, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and John Wall. “That was pretty cool to hear from those guys. I just respect their games so much so to see them give me some praise was crazy,” Edwards added.

Edwards faced his toughest competition yet Tuesday night when Georgia took on Kentucky in an SEC battle. More than 10,000 fans packed Stegeman Coliseum in a sellout, including Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young and Migos rapper Quavo.

On the opposing side was a familiar face and someone Edwards has faced multiple times in his young career, Tyrese Maxey. The Kentucky guard is another potential lottery pick and this game was one they were both looking forward to. “I’m super close with Tyrese. We talk all the time,” Edwards said. “But once we’re on the court, it’s on. We’re both going to compete and go hard at one another.”

The first half belonged to Edwards and everything was going right for the Bulldogs. At one point, Edwards hit a long three with Maxey in his face and afterwards lowered his hand to the ground in a “too little” jab at Maxey. “We’re going to talk about that later. I mean, come on bro, we’re on ESPN,” Maxey told Yahoo Sports after the game.

But Georgia didn’t have an answer for center Nick Richards and Kentucky pulled away in the second half to win 78-69. Edwards finished with 23 points and five rebounds while Maxey had 17 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

“We had a lot of fun playing against each other,” Maxey said. “... He’s really tough to guard on defense, especially when he has the green light like that. I can see just how much his game has progressed since I played him in high school. I’m proud of him; it was fun playing against him and I know this isn’t the last time we’ll match up in our careers.”

Thirty-one scouts from 19 different teams were on hand to watch Edwards and Maxey go head to head. With Edwards as a potential top-three draft pick, there is a lot to like about his game.

“His release on his shot is just so high and it makes it tough for anyone to defend. He needs to work on his shot selection but he definitely has all the mechanics of a modern-day NBA guard,” one scout told Yahoo Sports.

Right now it’s a three player race for the No. 1 draft pick consisting of Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball. Edwards is the only player NBA teams can watch right now, with Wiseman leaving Memphis early and LaMelo Ball sitting out with a minor injury while playing for the Illawarra Hawks in the Australian National Basketball League. Yahoo Sports sat down with LaMelo Ball in November and he thinks he’s the No. 1 draft pick. Where does Edwards think he’ll hear his name called?

“I think I’m the No. 1 draft pick in this class but everyone has their opinion. And I’m sure if you asked the other guys at the top, James [Wiseman], LaMelo [Ball], they think they’re No. 1 too. None of us are working to hear our name called second. We all want to be the best,” Edwards told Yahoo Sports.

The argument can be made for all three players at the top and it will most likely come down to fit and need for whichever team has the No. 1 pick.

On draft night in June, there will be two people on Edward’s mind as he hears his name called — his mom and grandmother.

“It’s just going to be a dream come true to be doing something for the people I love back home and for my family and my mom and grandma especially,” Edwards said. “I know they’re extremely proud. Just the guy I’ve become on and off the court, I know it’s putting a big smile on their face.”

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