One of the first things Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders noticed about Anthony Edwards was, quite frankly, that smile.
“You notice that he has a zest for life,” Saunders said. “He’s charismatic, he lights up a room.”
All things Saunders was listing during Friday’s press conference introducing Minnesota’s No. 1 overall pick, when he had to stop and smile himself.
“See,” Saunders said as he pointed at Edwards, “he’s smiling now here!”
Try as this world might, it cannot take Edwards’ smile away. It’s stuck on him, a permanent attribute that will radiate his surroundings from now until forever.
You would never expect as much from a 19-year-old who’s experienced so much at such a young age. Five years ago, he lost his mom, Yvette, and his grandma, Shirley, within an eight-month span — both from cancer. He’s been raised by his older siblings ever since.
Edwards has previously described his mother and grandmother as the two women he trusted the most in life. They’re also the two people he continuously honors. They were both with him on draft night — their portraits were stationed to his left and right as he waited for his name to be called. Edwards’ jersey number — No. 5 — is an ode to the both women, who each passed on the fifth of the month.
The smile is, too.
It’s what Edwards said the two most important women in his life left with him — the ability to be happy all of the time, no matter what.
“There’s nothing that can tear me down. Nothing that can make me too high or too low. I just stay right here and keep a smile on my face,” Edwards said. “I’m always happy. I can’t really change that.”
For a previously downtrodden franchise trying to resurrect its image and be a bright light in downtown Minneapolis, Edwards’ smiling face is a fitting one for the Timberwolves to put at the forefront.
“I don’t think people understand how good of a person he is,” said Donnell Gresham, a Cretin-Derham Hall grad and Edwards’ teammate and road trip roommate last year at Georgia. “His personality is one of a kind. He’s always happy.”
Edwards’ smile can often be misconstrued. Yes, it’s entirely possible that he will smile through a Wolves’ loss this season. That doesn’t mean he isn’t bothered by failure — it shows he has perspective.
“Of course I’m disappointed, I’m mad, but I can’t show you that losing makes me a different person than what I am every day,” Edwards said. “When I wake up in the morning, I’m blessed that God woke me up. So no matter what happened in that day, I’m going to smile. I don’t care what happened.”
But does he care about basketball?
That was one of the pre-draft questions that lingered around Edwards. It was fueled by his play — he wasn’t always the most engaged player at Georgia, particularly for stretches defensively — and also random comments. In a recent ESPN story, Edwards said, to be honest, “I can’t watch basketball.”
Red flag, right? But you know who else doesn’t watch basketball in his free time? Jimmy Butler, known as maybe the hardest worker in the league.
“Does (Edwards) love sitting there watching it for three, four hours at a time, probably not,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “I think you’d be surprised how few of kids really do. Now, playing it for three or four hours at a time? That is for sure. I’d much rather have a guy that wants to be in the gym working.”
That’s where Edwards usually is. Crean said Edwards doesn’t want to be in the gym — he needs to be there. In 20 years of coaching, he’s never had someone spend more time in the gym … after games. There have been nights where Edwards worked out postgame until 1 a.m. — and not necessarily after poor performances.
“I had like 25 points a couple games, then went in there and shot. I don’t care what type of game I had,” Edwards said. “If I felt like I missed a shot that I always worked on, I’m going to go to the gym that same night and work on that shot until I feel like I’ve got it down, and then I’m going to go in the next day. It don’t matter if I’ve had a good game or a bad game. I’m not that kind of guy. ‘I’ve got a bad game, I’ve got to go fix this.’ Nah. If I have a good game, and I feel like it could’ve been better if I would have made these shots, then I’m still going to go back and work on those shots.”
Edwards’ mindset is that he always wants to be better than his opponent.
“I want to be one of those players where they say, ‘Great D, but better offense,’” Edwards said. “I’m going to go to the gym no matter what and work on my offense, so it can be better than their defense.”
He’s working on other parts of his game, as well. You can mock Edwards’ defensive effort, and rightfully so at times, but that’s a weakness he recognized and has vowed to address — and believes he has this offseason. Crean said Edwards will wow people with his passing, and has noted Edwards finished his freshman season as Georgia’s best screener. There will also be a day, Crean said, when opponents think twice about trying to score on Edwards.
The Timberwolves did not select a one-trick pony. Who they took was a player who is evolving and willing to develop all parts of his game in an effort to be one of the best to ever play.
Take your thoughts, your advice, your constructive criticism and send them his way. If it will make Edwards better, he’s willing to do it.
The first time Minnesota came to see Edwards in person, Saunders told him they were going to minimize the number of mid-range jumpers he takes in his career — 3-pointers and layups are staples of Minnesota’s offensive and defensive philosophies.
Traditionally, Edwards’ trainer “loves” mid-range shots, but Edwards changed course for the Wolves’ workout. He is willing to adapt his game to whatever his team requires.
“I told him, ‘Well, let’s work on the 3-ball and getting to the rim.’ That’s the most important thing I’ve been working on in the gym and with my trainer and my friends,” Edwards said. “We’ve been working on catching and shooting, getting into it off the dribble and getting to the rim, because that’s what we want to do here (in Minnesota).”
Crean got emotional during one of Georgia’s first official practices this fall when Edwards entered the gym. It was the first time in a long time the two were able to be in the same facility in the midst of a pandemic.
The NBA prospect was there to watch his former coach and teammates, and he was dialed in.
“When we started to scrimmage I had him get up with the coaches,” Crean said. “He was into it. He was participating.”
And when practice was over, Edwards stuck around. His former teammates stayed to get up extra shots. Edwards didn’t join them. Rather, he rebounded — for roughly 45 minutes — while laughing and joking around.
When Gresham first met Edwards, he wouldn’t have known he was a top NBA prospect. He was so genuine and caring.
“He’d rather see his teammates prosper over himself,” Gresham said.
As he settles into the league, Crean is confident people will hear whispers of stories involving Edwards, from random people, about how he helped this person do this or made something possible for someone else. It won’t show up on social media or be on the news, either.
“That’s who he is,” Crean said. “He’s a great teammate with a great heart, and that’s gotta come out all the time.”
Edwards spoke Friday about the Timberwolves’ talent, and what Minnesota fans should expect from him.
“I think the only thing I want to tell the fans is that we’re going to make a lot of playoff runs,” Edwards said. “We’re going to win a lot of games.”
Then he was asked what he hopes to accomplish not on the court, but in life over the next few years, and the answer was far more long winded.
He wants to meet “everybody” in Minnesota, and be a great person to the “fans, to the people, to the outsiders.” Literally, everyone.
He also wants to help his communities — both the one that raised him in Georgia, and his new home here in Minnesota. One of his specific efforts will be to assist single moms, and kids who don’t have their fathers in their lives — as was the case for him. Where does a teenager learn such empathy and care for others?
From the same people who taught him how to smile.
“They always made sure other people were OK,” Edwards said of his mother and grandma. “So I feel like I can’t do nothing but help them out by being the same way.”