Gonzaga freshman Ryan Edwards was less than a minute into his first college basketball game when he was whistled for an offensive foul. Seconds later he made his first basket, a nice jump hook from close range.
Edwards re-entered the game in the second half, and 15 seconds later was whistled for an illegal screen. The next time down the floor, he connected on a left-handed hook for his second field goal.
Edwards has only been through four weeks of practice and one exhibition game, but he knows all about the ups and downs of a freshman. The 7-foot-1, 290-pound center from Kalispell, Mont., was solid with 13 points and three rebounds in 14 minutes in Gonzaga’s 103-68 rout of Simon Fraser on Friday.
“It felt good to finally stop practicing and play a game for once and getting to go against new guys,” Edwards said. “It was good to give my body a little break from ‘Shem’ (Przemek Karnowski) and Sam (Dower).”
There’s a long list of recent players who spent their formative years at GU going up against more seasoned and often bigger, stronger teammates every day at practice. Now it’s Edwards’ turn, though he’s roughly the same size as Karnowski.
“It has its moments,” Edwards said of Gonzaga practices. “It’s definitely brutal some days. It’s getting me better so you have to keep going through it.”
Numerous current and former Zags understand Edwards’ situation. Elias Harris started right away in a standout four-year career but he was an exception.
In his first three seasons, Dower backed up Harris, Robert Sacre and eventually Kelly Olynyk. Dower has averaged 16.1 minutes in 103 career games at GU but he’s only started seven times, three when Olynyk was suspended at the outset of last season. Olynyk played limited minutes for two seasons behind Harris and Sacre and then made the rare move of redshirting after his sophomore season before emerging as a star last season.
Sacre started 10 games as a true freshman – Abdullahi Kuso was more comfortable coming off the bench – but only averaged 9.6 minutes. Sacre was a reserve as a sophomore in 2009 and received a redshirt year after suffering a foot injury. He started the ensuing three seasons.
“I thought Ryan did a nice job finishing plays by the basket, he scored with both hands and he plugged the lane decent but not great,” coach Mark Few said. “He was like that the first week of practice and then he tailed off pretty considerably the last few weeks so it was nice to see. We need him to play some minutes.”
Edwards figures to play 5 to 10 minutes per game backing up Karnowski and/or Dower at the “5” position.
“It’s crazy going from Montana high school basketball to an NCAA tournament team,” said Edwards, who averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds as a senior at Glacier High. “It’s a big jump, but it’s a good jump.”
It’s not an easy jump. Like most incoming freshmen posts, including Karnowski last season, Edwards faces a learning process to meet the physical demands of college basketball.
“I had a tough couple of weeks of practice,” he said. “It happens to everyone. Just coming back (against Simon Fraser) feels good and hopefully I can keep playing like this through practice. You have slumps; I just went through mine early.
“They want me to rebound hard and get better defending ball screens and setting ball screens. Just work on everything,” he added.