While playing time has come few and far between in ACC play, Syracuse Orange men’s basketball freshman Jesse Edwards has the necessary tools that have his teammates and coaches believing in his potential. Edwards, a 6-foot-11 big man from the Netherlands, has been working with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Cabiles to add weight to his frame.
The Syracuse coaching staff notes that Edwards has a superb skillset for a big man. Allen Griffin, who works with the centers in practice, keeps telling Edwards to stay focused and continue to work hard in practice despite his limited minutes. The physicality of the college game takes some getting used to for most big men.
“He’s got a very good skillset. He can shoot it, pass it very well for a big guy,” Jim Boeheim said of Edwards. “He’s just not strong enough yet to play. He’s got to get stronger and that’s going to take time.”
Edwards knows that adding strength is the key for him. That’s been the focal point for him in his first season.
“We’re working a lot on just getting stronger obviously. That’s the main focus, I guess. Just getting game-ready. For either 30 seconds or maybe five minutes. You don’t really know,” Edwards divulged.
Although his playing time has been scarce in ACC play, Edwards has flashed his potential in various games this season. He scored 10 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked 2 shots against Bucknell, albeit against smaller players. Edwards scored 7 points, pulled down 3 boards and blocked a shot in his second ACC game (at Georgia Tech). Since the start of the new year, Edwards has only played a total of 19 minutes.
“In Jesse’s case it’s just physical strength. Nothing else,” Boeheim says.
Edwards’s teammates at Syracuse believe he has a bright future. Junior forward Marek Dolezaj says its an adjustment from high school and most players think they can just come to college and replicate what worked at the previous level.
“I don’t know how it is in the U.S. But in my country it was more like you play, you get the ball all the time and you’re going to score it,” Dolezaj said.
Edwards is learning, but Dolezaj deems his fellow big man’s height, length and athleticism a terrific fit at Syracuse.
“He has great potential to play here. (He’s) everything Syracuse is trying to find in the middle. Block a lot of shots, be long, run to the corner. And he has everything,” says Dolezaj, who doubles as a center in the 2-3 zone.
As a junior, Dolezaj has emerged for Syracuse in ACC play. His 22 points against Duke were a career-high. But his transition wasn’t exactly seamless despite his on-court success as a freshman.
Dolezaj is from Bratlislava, Slovakia and Edwards is from Amsterdam in The Netherlands. They might as well be a world apart with over 1,200 kilometers (700+ miles) separating the two countries, but Dolezaj and Edwards do share a European background. It’s not easy adapting to a new culture on top of adjusting to high-level ACC basketball. Dolezaj can empathize.
“Yeah, for sure. I was way worse,” Dolezaj began. “I didn’t speak any English when I got here and he speaks really good English. But I think I was in the same situation. I didn’t start playing. Coach told me I can not shoot.
“It’s a mental thing, trying to understand. But you understand and you start doing it, it will help you a lot.”
To aid in his transition, Edwards has sought out knowledge from previous Syracuse big men. He suggests it’s helped to better understand his position and what his head coach expects out of him. The ertswhile Syracuse bigs have told him to be ready when his number is called and to prepare as if he’s going to play.
“They just say you gotta be ready,” Edwards said. “It can be 10 minutes. It can be anywhere in between. You just got to be ready for whatever you’re going to get. Just have your head in the game whenever you get in.”
Edwards wants to help his team out as soon as possible, but he has no timetable. He’s eager for whenever his time comes.
As for when he does check into the game?
“Just show what I can do any time I get out there. Show ‘em what I can do,” Edwards said. “Maybe more next year, but show ‘em what I already got.”