I caught up with Edwards to discuss his perseverance through his
difficult early years under head coach Jim Boeheim, his
progression, the upcoming season, the talented freshman class and
Etan Thomas: How was your experience playing
for the Dutch National Team?
Jesse Edwards: "It was a great learning
experience because I got the opportunity to play with and against
pros. I saw how they approached the game. It’s different than
teenagers in college; they approach it as their livelihood. It’s
all businesses. It was really a great experience."
Etan: This season, we have some young guns, we
also have returning vets. Joe Girard, Symir Torrence, yourself, of
course. What can 'Cuse fans expect this season?
Edwards: "Our practices have really been a lot
of fun. We have six freshmen and a transfer. That’s seven new
people. And everyone is hungry. We really go at it in practice. Not
to say we didn’t do that before, but now, it’s just different. It’s
a feeling that things are not as set in stone as they were last
year. This season, it feels like playing time is really up for
grabs, so the tenacity in practice is just really competitive. It’s
Etan: A lot of fans are discussing how the team
is going to look very different as far as style of play compared to
last year. Do you think that as well?
Edwards: "For sure. Last year, we had fantastic
scorers, top-tier three-point shooters. This season, we still have
Joe, but we added a lot of athleticism to our roster. And Benny
[Williams] will be playing a lot more, and he’s as athletic as they
come. So yeah, it will be a much faster pace this year. (It) will
be fun to watch."
Etan: Now, you’re coming into this season as
one of the top big-men prospects in the country. People are really
high on you now. People are complimenting your scoring ability, and
Coach Boeheim even said something to that effect. How does that
feel coming into the season for your confidence? It seems like
people are finally recognizing what you can do on the basketball
Edwards: "It definitely feels good to get that
recognition, for people to see what you’ve been working on for the
last few years. But for myself, I try to not put too much into what
people say. I know how quickly what they say can change. I’m just
trying to continue working hard, getting better and doing the
things that can help this team win. It’s great to hear, don’t get
me wrong, but none of that is going to my head, trust me."
Etan: That’s a great mentality to have. So, I
wanna go back now because it wasn’t always like this — how you’re
regarded and people recognizing and acknowledging what you can do.
You know, myself and Roosevelt Bouie, we’ve been the founders of
the Free Jesse Fan Club and the Feed Jesse Club, lobbying for you
to get the ball more.
But explain the mental toughness and perseverance that it took
for you to weather the storm during those tough years where you
weren’t getting to play, or you would get put in for a few minutes,
then get taken right out. Or you would play really well one game,
then wouldn’t play for two games after. What did it take to
mentally get through those tough periods?
Edwards: "Well, first of all, I know I’ve said
this to you and Rosie privately, but I want to say it publicly — I
really want to say thank you for keeping my head up during those
tough times you mentioned. The texts, the DM’s, coming up to me
after the game; that really helped me a lot, especially coming from
you. And you always used yourself as an example saying, 'Yeah it
was tough for me at first too, but it got better. Just hang in
"I can’t tell you how much that helped. That kept me on the
right track, motivated, and you didn’t let me get down. It was like
you knew the perfect time where I needed some encouragement. I
remember one time in particular, you listed all of the positive
things I did one game, and it was a game I felt like I did nothing
Etan: Well, it's because I’ve been there. And
like I told you before, Roosevelt came to me while I was going
through my tough times and did that same thing for me. He saw the
potential in me just like I saw it in you. But I know what it feels
like to not feel like you can do anything right in Coach Boeheim’s
To have the entire halftime speech or postgame speech be focused
on what you did wrong, and you’re looking around like, "I only
played 5 minutes, I couldn’t have done all that in 5 minutes." I
remember all that, and I know what it can do to a player’s
confidence, and I didn’t want that to happen to you. So how was you
able to weather that storm? Because it’s not easy.
Edwards: "No, it’s definitely not easy. I don’t
know. I just tried to occupy my mind by working hard. Going to the
gym by myself or just getting someone to rebound for me and just
workout and take my frustrations to the court. When you’re in that
situation, it’s hard not to start doubting if it will ever change.
But I didn’t want to give up, or have my love for the game to be
taken away, and that’s one of the things you kept saying: 'Don’t
give him a reason to point to because if you start sulking, or not
cheering on the bench, or not working hard in practice, or not
coming in early and staying late, or not interacting with your
teammates, they are going to use that as reasons to justify not
playing you.' So I made sure I didn’t do any of that. But to be
honest, there were times I thought, 'Did I make the right decision
Etan: I’m sure there were. I remember after my
freshman year, I was this close to transferring. I doubled
back to some of the colleges that recruited me.
Edwards: "Yeah, and that was back when it
wasn’t easy to transfer. Y'all had to sit out right?"
Etan: Yeah, you had to sit out a year. Let me
tell you how frustrated I was, though. The rules were if you
transferred in conference, you had to sit out two years. And I was
still considering it! (Laughing)
Edwards: (Laughing) "Dang! That’s crazy."
Etan: Man, listen, so when I would tell you I
feel you, I meant it. But you battled through it, and every year,
you added something to your game and it was great to see the
development. And to hear the announcers start speaking highly of
you and giving you the praise you deserved, it was great to see
that. Specifically, your sophomore year, because there was a
stretch where the media kept asking Coach Boeheim why you weren’t
playing more. Do you remember that?
Edwards: "Well, I remember you writing about it
and tweeting it and then, more of the Syracuse media almost quoting
you to Coach."
Etan: Okay, semantics (laughing), but Coach
Boeheim would keep telling them, "He’s not strong enough. He’s too
thin. He doesn’t rebound well enough. I play the guys who play the
best at practice," and his most consistent response: “He’s not
ready.” And yes, I wrote about when you was put in a few crucial
games — after not playing for a few games and really getting
inconsistent minutes even before that — and you shined against
Georgia Tech. Then, you came back the next game against North
Carolina and shined again. And I wrote about it.
But people don’t understand how difficult it is to just “stay
ready." People use that phrase as a cliche, but they don’t really
understand how it feels if you haven’t played in a few games, then
you’re thrown into an important game. Then, you know that if you
don’t play well, Coach Boeheim is going to say, “See, that’s why I
can’t play him because he’s not ready.” So all that is in the back
of your mind, but you came in both times and played great. How were
you able to do that?
Edwards: "Yes, exactly the way you described.
It’s so crazy. You check in, you’re thinking, 'Okay, don’t mess up,
don’t mess up' because you know (you make) one mistake and you are
going to get snatched out the game. And people don’t understand
that feeling unless they have experienced it. There’s no way they
"But I always come back to what you and Rosie kept telling me.
Whether it’s three minutes or 23 minutes, when you go out there,
make something happen and get yourself going. Don’t have the
deer-in-headlights look. Understand what coach wants. Don’t freeze
up at any yelling from the bench. Like, shake it off immediately
and keep playing. All that stuff helped. I don’t want to keep
thanking you throughout this entire interview, but I wouldn’t have
been able to do it without that advice. I was prepared, mentally
prepared, which is really a large percentage of what you need."
Etan: Definitely, and you really did a great
job with that. So let’s talk about last season. You’re playing
great. Everything was going well. Things were really turning the
corner for you and the entire team. And then, you hurt your wrist
and was out for the season. Talk about how devastating it was for
that to happen right at that time when you were rolling.
Edwards: "Aw man, it was so devastating. The
team was rolling like you said. We were all finally clicking. So to
have it happen then, it really sucked. That’s all I could say. But
to watch the team almost pull off a crazy upset against Duke and
how Buddy [Boeheim] was playing, I was really happy for him. But
yeah, it was tough. I can’t lie. But like you told me, injuries are
part of the game. You get knocked down, you pick yourself back up
and you work harder, and that’s what I did this summer."
Etan: So coming into this season, all that’s
behind you. You’ve weathered all the Syracuse storms, and now
you’re a senior, you’re established. People recognize what you mean
to this team. Your inside presence, scoring ability. You can even
step out and hit the jumper. You can really score in a variety of
ways. I love the drag screen in transition and how you attack the
rim; you gotta stay outta foul trouble though because we need you
on the floor, so don’t go over any one’s back fighting for rebounds
and getting cheap fouls — but also, keep fighting for rebounds
(laughing). I ain’t telling you not to rebound now
Edwards: (Laughing) "Yeah, I hear you."
Etan: But you’re one of the leaders on the
team, and really, the sky’s the limit for yourself and this super
Edwards: "I can’t wait. This is really going to
be an exciting team to watch. We have high-flyers, scorers. The
defense is going to be better, we still have three-point
specialists; (we have) young players who are all hungry and excited
to play. We’re really going to be fun to watch. I can’t wait."