The Thundering Word: Healthy Edmonds gives Herd more than a shot


HUNTINGTON – After watching a finally healthy Justin Edmonds practice one day last month, new Marshall basketball Coach Dan D’Antoni used the word “explosive.”

That wasn’t a reference to those days not so long ago when Edmonds thought his major college basketball career could be blown up.

Edmonds joined the Thundering Herd program 14 months ago as damaged goods. He’d endured an ACL tear on his right knee (and subsequent surgery) that ended his sophomore season at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio three days before Christmas 2012.

The staff of former MU coach Tom Herrion saw an opportunity to get a talented scorer when a few power conference programs backed away from the rangy shooting guard. So, Edmonds signed and came here … only to learn that a bone fracture that came with the ACL tear hadn’t been repaired.

When the Herd opens the 2014-15 season for D’Antoni’s debut on Nov. 14 against Jacksonville State, it will have been nearly 23 months since Edmonds played in a game.

“It was frustrating, so frustrating,” Edmonds said Tuesday after working the Little Herd Basketball Camp in the Henderson Center. “I wasn’t used to sitting out more than a couple of days for a rolled ankle or something like that.

“But sitting out months to years … I had to sit out four months after my second surgery, slowly work my way back. It took a lot out of me. I’d get depressed at times. I was worried, concerned. It would affect me during my day, but I always had to try to keep a positive attitude.

“There was point where I’d just sit in my apartment and just think, ‘What if this doesn’t get better?’ What do I do then? As weeks and months went by I started to feel improvement, so that helped me when I tried to stay positive. I learned a lot about patience. I decided to be more patient than I was.”

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder underwent his second knee surgery early this year, while the Herd was falling toward an 11-22 finish. He didn’t get full medical clearance for “full go” until a week remained in summer workouts.

Edmonds, 23 and an MU sports management major, already had been sitting out the 2013-14 season as he rehabbed from the ACL repair. Now, the Albion, Mich., native has two seasons of eligibility remaining for the Herd – and his presence on the roster helped MU land a former Owens CC teammate in forward James Kelly, who will sit out this season after transferring from Miami (Fla.).

Edmonds might be the Herd’s best perimeter marksman. D’Antoni has been impressed by Edmonds’ combination of talent, work ethic, toughness and resilience. It was obvious from his play in summer drills that the two-guard could have helped the Herd last season, too.

“It wasn’t a bad team last year,” Edmonds said. “There just were pieces we didn’t have, things that guys like me and JP Kambola (held out last season over NCAA eligibility questions) could have done … We sat out and we were important pieces.

“I was more of the aggressive 3-point shooter and JP was the inside guy and shot blocker. If you look at our games, teams sucked in on us, and we got beat by guys getting to the basket. It could have been different, but we didn’t have a consistent shot maker or presence inside.”

Edmonds averaged 18.8 points as an Owens freshman, making All-Region 12 and All-Ohio Community College Athletic Conference first team honors. He was averaging 18.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 2012-13 through 15 games when he was injured on a fast break in a Dec. 22 win over Delta College.

He said he thought the bone fracture was repaired along with the ACL, but as time wore on, “my mindset was my knee was repaired and honestly, it felt pretty good. It was just limited in the range of motion I had … I’m still not 100 percent, but I’m back to where I’m doing full, two-hour practices with the team, and that’s a great feeling.”

And while his leg is much better physically, Edmonds’ head hasn’t yet gotten past his injury-forced absence from the game. Even while guiding and coaxing kids age 5-12 through Little Herd camp, his right knee is encased.

“It’s something mentally,” he said of the elastic brace. “When it’s bare naked, I think about it more. When I have a sleeve or something on it, it’s not even in my head.”

Meanwhile, as he returns to the game after leaving the courtside exercise cycle behind, Edmonds comes into D’Antoni’s system at the same time as his teammates. The Herd returnees have no more experience in the new schemes than he does.

“That helps a lot,” Edmonds said. “A head coach coming in not knowing the players, it takes time for him to see who’s who and what’s what, how this guy plays different from another. Coach has given us more positive energy.

“Free throws, we were bad last season, and he’s doing everything in his power to distract us at the free throw line so we can be mentally focused when we get there, prepared for game situations, so if it comes down to having to hit two free throws to win the game or ice it, we can do that.

“He pushes us and has a good relationship with everybody. We were worried about how things would be, our trust. We’ve gained his trust and he’s gained ours. And I think this team has the talent to win.

“His system is fun. We’re going to play really fast. I don’t think we’ll use a lot of the shot clock, to be honest. What we want to do is set one of our teammates up for the best shot they can get … the first quick, good shot. Whether it’s me or the next guy, get somebody open for a good shot and then get back fast on defense, we’re going to get out front with the ball.”

The Herd is going to run. That’s something Edmonds can do again, and something he doesn’t take for granted after being idled so long.

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