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Home cooking: Top NBA prospect Anthony Edwards living out dream at Georgia

The Bulldogs’ star guard is enjoying his freshman year with family close by

ATHENS, Ga. – Anthony Edwards often walks past a mural on a wall outside of the University of Georgia men’s basketball office listing the names of its NBA alumni, including Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It’s a relatively short list — there are 22 former Bulldogs listed in all. But Edwards, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, chose this path for a reason.

“Playing with your home [state] on your chest, the family in the crowd,” Edwards said. “You can look at them, they right there, they smiling every time you do something. My brothers, my teammates, my coaches, they are behind me every step of the way.

“It’s like a dream come true.”

Edwards was born in Atlanta. It’s where his father gave him the nickname “Ant-Man” as a child. It’s where he fell in love with basketball growing up and played with his brothers in the backyard of his grandmother’s home. It’s also where he endured hardship and learned the importance of family.

When Edwards was in the eighth grade, his mother, Yvette, and his grandmother, Shirley, both died of cancer within eight months.

“Losing my mom was really tough because I used to sleep with her a lot. So, I lost my sleeping buddy,” Edwards said. “And my grandma, she was like our backbone, she did everything for us. When we didn’t have money for the lights and pay bills, she’ll come through. She worked at a post office, so she always had money.”

Edwards, who wears No. 5 in honor of his mother and grandmother who both died on the fifth of the month, said he keeps smiling because that is what his grandmother taught him. But their deaths motivated him to work even harder on his basketball talent.

“Me and my brother told each other we weren’t going to stop playing basketball because of it, because we know that if they were still here, they would want us to keep playing,” he said. “So, that’s all we did. I just channeled all my energy towards basketball. Stopped worrying about everything else.”

Edwards’ sister, Antoinette, and brother, Antoine, shared legal custody of him after their mother and grandmother died. (Antoine told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that their father isn’t a part of their daily lives.) They raised him and built a strong bond. Edwards also gained several basketball role models over the years, including basketball trainer Justin Holland, an Atlanta native and former Liberty Flames guard.

So when it was time to choose a college, Georgia was always on his mind.

“Family is, like, the most important thing ever to me because of what happened,” Edwards said. “So whatever my family need, I feel like I got to be there for them.”

When it comes to high school basketball stars, Georgia has had a long list of McDonald’s All-Americans since 2000 who have gone on to the NBA: Caldwell-Pope, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jaylen Brown, Kwame Brown, Wendell Carter Jr., Javaris Crittenton, Derrick Favors, JJ Hickson, Dwight Howard, Gani Lawal, Randolph Morris, Collin Sexton, Kobi Simmons, Chris Singleton, Josh Smith and Lou Williams. But only three of them stayed in-state to play college ball. Crittenton, Lawal and Favors played at Georgia Tech. (Kwame Brown, Howard, Smith and Williams all went straight to the pros.)

Edwards, meanwhile, was being heavily recruited out of state, too. As a senior, he averaged 25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game for Atlanta Holy Spirit Prep. Florida State, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky were all in hot pursuit, while a source said Georgia Tech didn’t recruit Edwards hard because they believed the odds of landing him were slim.

Georgia, however, continued to pursue Edwards, who describes himself as a “homebody.” It came down to Georgia and Kentucky and, ultimately, Edwards chose the 75-minute drive from Atlanta to the University of Georgia.

“For UGA to get a player like [Edwards] is big,” said Favors, who grew up 10 minutes from Georgia Tech. “I hope some other top players in the state and the city of Atlanta now look at it like, ‘I don’t have to go to Duke or Kentucky. I can go to Tech, Georgia or stay in-state and just build from there.’ ”

Georgia coach Tom Crean sold Edwards on not only being close to home, but starting a new trend of Georgia kids staying home. Also enticing to Edwards was that Crean helped develop All-Star guards in Dwyane Wade (at Marquette) and Victor Oladipo (at Indiana).

“Anthony, at that age, has got an incredible amount of strength, explosion,” said Crean, who added that Edwards’ athleticism already surpasses a young Wade and Oladipo. “What we have to do with him is continue to show him how he can use his athleticism even more as a basketball player. And how he’s got to use his mind, even more as a basketball player to enhance that. And he’s already gained a significant amount of strength.”

Through 13 games at Georgia (10-3), Edwards is averaging 18.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard scored 37 points against then third-ranked Michigan State on Nov. 26 and 13 points in an upset of ninth-ranked Memphis Jan. 4. Edwards will face Kentucky for the first time on Tuesday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

“[Edwards] is a pro, everything about him. Athleticism. Skill. The ability to score,” one NBA scout told The Undefeated. “He can defend. He is one of those guys that will be better on the next level because he will be playing with better teammates. When he walks onto the floor, you have the feeling that you’re watching a pro. And then the game starts and he shows you he is one with his versatility and skill.”

Crean has been pleased with not only the 18-year-old’s play, but his maturity. It is not uncommon for Edwards to show up at the Bulldogs’ practice facility to get in a workout at midnight or 7 a.m.

“He’s extremely intelligent. … He’s got confidence, but he’s got real humility,” Crean said. “There’s a level of empathy, right, that’s going to grow and come out as he gets into his 20s. And I think that for somebody that has gone through what he’s gone through in life … whether it’s high levels of success, tragedy, adversity, whatever it is, to be where he is at, at that age, 18 and a quarter at this point in time, is pretty amazing.”

ESPN.com currently ranks Edwards as the second-best prospect in the 2020 draft behind Australia NBL guard LaMelo Ball. Former University of Memphis center James Wiseman is also in the mix for the top pick. If Edwards continues his trajectory, he would join Wilkins as the only Bulldogs to be drafted in the top 5.

“That’s my dream, to be the No. 1 pick,” Edwards said. “So, all I’m doing is just working hard. And whoever gets the pick, they will do whatever they want to do with. I just pray it would be me.”

In the meantime, he is happy to be representing Georgia.

“I pray to God that it will inspire a hometown kid to stay at home and live out their dream at home,” Edwards said, “and not go to another school, where you got to worry about other players and coaches lying to you, not telling you the truth.

“Just stay at home and grind.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.