From the start, all the signs were there that Daryl Edwards would be LSU’s toughest, most competitive player. Will Wade just didn’t see them.
Now, they’re on full display for all to see.
Edwards, a junior college transfer and the first player Wade signed upon his arrival in Baton Rouge in the spring, has suddenly found himself in an expanded role, emerging as both LSU’s go-to defensive stopper and one of its most consistent, reliable offensive threats. He consistently earns the defensive assignment of the opponent’s best scorer, and his offensive output in the Tigers’ last seven games – 10.7 points per game on 55 percent shooting from the field, 42 percent shooting from 3, and 80 percent at the line – only tells part of the story.
“Not even close: he’s our toughest guy,” Wade said after LSU’s 80-65 loss to Alabama on Tuesday, when Edwards scored a career-high 21 points. “Not even close: he’s our most competitive guy. We’ve gotta go get another JUCO kid like him. He ain’t perfect, but he gives us everything he’s got every night.”
“He’s the Lead Dog”
Edwards signed with LSU from Northwest Florida State College as a 6-foot-4 combo guard with a smooth, compact shooting stroke and a knack for making big plays. He first displayed the grit he’s used to entrench himself as a critical part of LSU’s rotation in the summer. In LSU’s “road game” offseason workouts – grueling Friday sessions at unannounced locations and times with a heavy focus on competition – Edwards shined.
“When we did the road games in the summer, his team – it was a precursor to things, I just wasn’t smart enough to figure it out until later on in the year – his team won every time in the road games,” Wade says. “In any sort of toughness drill or toughness team activity we do, he’s the lead dog. He’s not back in the pack trying to see what other people are doing to do. He’s going to go first.”
Wade’s not the first coach who needed time to appreciate Edwards’ skillset. He joined high-powered AAU program Texas PRO as “a throw-in,” in Wade’s words, and became a starter. At Northwest Florida State, he rose from 11th or 12th man to being a critical component of a national championship-caliber squad and a top-25 JUCO prospect nationally.
It’s a mentality Edwards manifests in speech and action. He describes himself as “a tough dude that can score the ball and play some defense.” His quotes about himself are terse and cursory. He’s not a self-promoter.
He is, however, a shot-maker.
Take, for example, the slump that plagued Edwards, who shoots 50 percent from the floor, 40.5 percent from 3, and 82.8 percent from the line on the season, to start SEC play. He made just 2-of-14 from three to start his SEC career, and earned the chastisement of his coaches, particularly assistant Greg Heiar the week before LSU’s Feb. 3 home date with Arkansas.
“All week, Coach GH [had] been saying we’re shot-takers, not shot-makers,” Edwards says.
When Edwards responded by hitting his first two shots from deep, including a crafty stepback off the bounce, he made sure to let Heiar know the facts.
“In the game, I was focused on defense,” Edwards says. “But when I got out of the game, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m a shot maker.'”
“He doesn’t tolerate losing”
Edwards has been coming out of games less and less frequently as of late. His minutes have ticked up from 21.2 per game for the season to 26.4 over his seven-game hot streak. In LSU’s last three outings, he’s averaged 32 per game, despite the fact that his presence in the backcourt alongside 6-foot-4 Skylar Mays and 5-foot-9 Tremont Waters often leaves the Tigers undersized.
“You’re pretty small when you start Tre, Sky, and Daryl,” says Wade. “But you put Daryl on their best offensive guy, you can maybe hide some other guys better. You’re just a little bit disadvantaged height-wise, but he makes up for it in other ways.”
It’s a carry-over of Edwards’ work in practice, Wade says. His teams always win competitive drills. He often joins the scout team to both provide some edge to the reserves and to learn the other team’s plays, so he knows how to guard them better. Every drill, in Edwards’ world, has a winner and a loser, and he has no intention of being a loser.
“If we’re doing one-on-one full-court zig-zag, he’ll want to turn his guy more than anybody else on the team,” Wade says. “Everything he does, he’s very competitive, he’s very winning-oriented. He doesn’t tolerate losing.”
Says Edwards: “I just want to win. Nothing else means more. There’s no moral victories. I just want to win at the end of the day.”