It's how you finish: Edwards makes the most of his opportunity at Alabama

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Arthur Edwards shoots against LSU on Jan. 23, 2016.

Tyler Waldrep

The first time Crystal Edwards heard her son’s name announced over the PA system inside Coleman Coliseum, she couldn’t help but smile. All the long hours her son had put in were finally paying off. He locked in a starting position.

“I just lit up like a lightbug, because I was like wow he’s finally getting his just, the thing that he really wanted in life,” Crystal Edwards said. “To hear his name, [still] even on TV I get excited, I’m like ‘AARTHUUUR EDWAAARDS.’ It just excites me just to say wow, I gave birth to a child that you know, is fulfilling one of his life long dreams.”

When Arthur Edwards first expressed his desire to play basketball he was nine years old. His mother contacted a coach in the area who told her he didn’t have room for any more players, but he said he would give her son a shot if she thought he could help him win a championship. 

The coach took one look at the nine-year-old Edwards before asking his mother if she had a birth certificate, with his size- his dad (also named Arthur) said Edwards was 5’8” at the time- he would be able to contribute.

Finding a home

Edwards’ collegiate career began at Northwest Florida State College. During that season, he helped his team play for a junior college national championship.

His team fell in the championship, but his production on the court grabbed the attention of the New Mexico Lobos – a team that had earned a top five bid in the NCAA Tournament the past two years.

Here was a chance for Edwards to fulfill his dreams of playing college basketball at the highest level, but shortly after Edwards arrived on campus, things began to change. His father said the coaches were less personable and when the season began his son didn’t see the minutes the family expected him to.

“It was kind of a trying situation for him [at the University of New Mexico],” his father said. “When he got to the school everything had just kind of miraculously changed.”

Edwards’ first year on campus also happened to be the program’s first year under its current head coach, Craig Neal. The Lobos lost in the round of 64 as a No. 7 seed to No. 10 seed Stanford.

Edwards didn’t get any playing time in the postseason. In fact, he only saw action in 15 games and he finished the season with 14 points. The following season, he played 22 games but finished with only 86 points as injury and limited playing time continued to affect his production.

It was time for a change. That was when Alabama coach Avery Johnson reached out to Edwards with an offer the family couldn’t believe, but despite his trepidation, Johnson’s background and his pitch interested Edwards. He scheduled a visit to Tuscaloosa.

Edwards’ mother said her son fell in love with the campus almost immediately. The initial impression the coaching staff made on the entire family didn’t hurt either.

“He really, really loved coach Avery and his wife [Cassandra],” she said. “They have been more than blessing to us. They treat us like we’re family.”

Edwards might not have been looking for a family when he decided to transfer, but that’s exactly what he got at Alabama.

On March 2, when it was time for Edwards’ Senior Night inside of Coleman Coliseum, his parents couldn’t make the trip down due his mother’s recent surgery, but that didn’t stop his new family – the entire 2015-16 Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team – from escorting Edwards out onto the court

His parents might have missed Senior Night, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been able to see their son play. They made the trip to see him play multiple times in Tuscaloosa, but they’ve also gone to some of the closer road games like the team’s trip to Clemson and South Carolina among others.

“If we wait till the last minute and then we’re like the [plane] tickets have gone up too high, then we’ll get in the car and head to the game,” his mother said. “We thought it was very important to support him, especially this last year and we love our children.”

That was one of the perks to spending his final season in Tuscaloosa. It might not be close to Edwards’ hometown of Washington D.C. but his father said he would not have been able to see his son play, in person, this often if he stayed out west.

Making memories

Edwards is the Crimson Tide’s No. 2 scorer this season (with a total of 310 points in 32 games), and excluding fellow senior Retin Obasohan, he is perhaps the most consistent contributor on the team.

“I always felt like I could play at a high level at college, just all I needed was the opportunity,” Edwards said. “Coach Avery gave me the opportunity, and now I’m proving it. My numbers are way higher than they were at New Mexico so I’m just grateful.”

When Edwards broke the news to his mother that he earned a spot in the starting lineup, she was thrilled. She knew he would have the chance to start, but she remembered similar promises coming from New Mexico.

“It meant so much to him [to be named a starter],” she said. “He said, ‘I’m getting my confidence back because coach, he trusts me and he knows when I go out there I’m going to try and give him everything that I’ve got.’”

Edwards’ confidence has been good for Alabama. Johnson has been asking his young team to take chances, especially behind the arc, all season long.

With Edwards, Johnson doesn’t have to preach the need to take those shots quite as much. Only eight active SEC players have made more 3-pointers than Edwards (71) and only four of those guys are more accurate behind the arc than Edwards (40.8 percent).

“The first time I saw him hit all those 3’s back-to-back one game he had. I was like, ‘Wow you’re on fire, you’re hot,’” his mother said.

When the Tennessee Volunteers visited on Jan. 26, the Crimson Tide had lost five of six conference games to open SEC play. The team needed a win, and when Alabama’s comeback was in question, Johnson didn’t turn to Obasohan or the suddenly hot-shooting Shannon Hale. He turned to Edwards and told him to let one go from behind the arc. 

With 42 seconds remaining, he finally took the shot Johnson had been begging him to take, giving Alabama a 3-point lead Tennessee was unable to answer.

“Honestly at the college level, that’s the biggest shot I probably had in my career,” Edwards said. “Because at New Mexico, I didn’t play as much and here, I haven’t hit a big shot with the time ticking down [until that one].”

With the wins came locker room celebrations. His mother said Edwards has dreamed of moments like that his entire life.

“He’s like in Heaven in the locker room when coach Avery comes out and dances,” she said. “[But] the funniest thing that we’ve always teased him about was his dancing. He thinks he can dance, but his brother [Christopher] is a better dancer.”

Edwards’ favorite moments weren’t limited to the locker room. His parents said experiences like throwing out the first pitch at the Alabama-Tennessee softball game meant a lot to their son.

“You guys show a lot of support to the team and the fans really show appreciation,” his father said. “He was just overwhelmed that you guys gave him a chance to come be apart of a team…He was more happy about that than anything else.”

Leaving his mark

In the preseason Johnson’s team was picked to finish 13th in the SEC. With one week to go the Crimson Tide was in the mix to finish as high as sixth before back-to-back losses dropped the team down to 10th place.

“Arthur Edwards coming in and his production on both ends of the floor has enabled us to overachieve in a lot of ways this year,” Johnson said.

Alabama has accomplished a lot with only two seniors, a new head coach, and a roster hurt by decisions to transfer. With Edwards’ help the Crimson Tide beat the odds and defeated four ranked teams in the regular season.

Before, Alabama hadn’t beaten a single ranked team in its last 21 tries, and the last time the team beat four was the 2001-02 season. Alabama also won five consecutive SEC games for the first time since 2011.

“[This season], it’s been great, I didn’t know that we were making history,” Edwards said. “When you’re in the moment you really don’t pay attention to stuff like that, but now looking back over it, it’s been great.”

In the SEC Tournament Edwards’ impact on Alabama was on full display as he led the team in scoring Friday against the Kentucky Wildcats, but despite his career-high 20-point night the Crimson Tide was sent home in defeat. 

The loss all but officially ended Alabama’s outside shot of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but failing to play in a tournament game might be one of the few dreams that didn’t come true for Edwards, and minutes after the defeat, he was still able to remain upbeat about his lone season in the SEC.

“I loved competing at a high level every night. There wasn’t one game in this league that was like okay that’s an easy game we can get that one,” Edwards said. “I’m glad I came here and it was a blessing to play in this conference.”

For many teams the season is over, but on Sunday Alabama earned a No. 5 seed in the NIT bracket. It might not be the tournament he always dreamed of, but Edwards is a win over fourth-seed Creighton away from another memorable locker room celebration (and perhaps one more chance for his parents to laugh at their son).

Win or lose, Edwards- a guy his teammates look to for both leadership and laughter -will enjoy the chance to delay the end of his time playing for the university he has come to love.

“It’s fun man I love it here. One of the best decisions I made in my life,” Edwards said. “I’m only here for one year, I wish I was here for longer, but I’m only here for one year so I just wanna soak everything up.”