Kirk Earlywine didn’t recruit Cliff Ederaine with the idea of landing the next player of the year in the Big Sky Conference.
Eastern Washington’s head coach was simply looking for a quick, long and athletic player who could defend the low post and chase down rebounds, and Ederaine possessed those desired traits and talents.
But since arriving in Cheney, the 6-foot-7, 205-pound first-year junior transfer from College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., has proven capable of providing much more.
Ederaine’s young Eagles team (7-14 overall, 4-5 Big Sky) that will try to snap a 17-game road losing streak tonight when it takes on BSC rival Northern Colorado (11-9, 7-2) at 6:05 in Greeley.
“He’s exceeded all our expectations,” Earlywine said of Ederaine, the only player on Eastern’s roster who has started all 21 games. “There is usually a sharp, tough learning curve for junior college guys at this level, but Cliff has made a quick, easy transition.”
Ederaine, despite his slender build, leads the Eagles in rebounding with an average of eight per game, and ranks second on the team with 27 blocked shots. He has also managed to contribute on offense, averaging 8.5 points per game while shooting a team-best 49.3 percent from the field.
In an 88-79 home win over Sacramento State in December, Ederaine scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“Part of what has made him so effective, is that he knows who he is, what he is and what his role is,” Earlywine said. “He doesn’t try to do things he can’t do. Plus, he has a great sense and feel for the game, which front-line guys and guys who are really athletic don’t always have.”
During his two years in Visalia, Ederaine was coached by Rusty Smith, a former assistant under John Wade at Eastern. It was Smith who encouraged Ederaine to become an Eagle.
“He told me it would be a good school for me and that I’d get better here,” said Ederaine, who was invited on only one recruiting trip – to Division II San Francisco State – coming out of Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, Calif. “And so far, it’s worked out.
“There’s always room for improvement, but at least I’m starting to get used to how hard you have to work in games, and every day in practice, to compete at this level.”
Ederaine, who was born in Nigeria but moved with his family to Southern California when he was a baby, didn’t get serious about basketball until the summer before his freshman year in high school, which makes his feel for the game even more remarkable.
“I played a lot of soccer before that,” he said. “But once I got into basketball, I really liked it. Everything seemed to come easy for me.”
Everything but shooting the basketball from distance, it would seem.
Earlywine figures the 3-pointer Ederaine threw in to beat the shot clock in last Saturday’s 83-70 win over Idaho State was the first shot he has taken from outside of 6 feet. And he had much better luck with that than the majority of those he has taken from the foul line, where he has made only 39.1 percent (34 of 87) of his free throws.
Based on how well Ederaine shoots foul shots in practice, Earlywine insists that number will grow considerably by year’s end. But Ederaine, when asked about his issues at the foul line, only shakes his head and grins.
“I can’t put my finger on what it is,” he said. “I guess it’s all about confidence, and right now, I think Coach has a lot more confidence in me than I do.”