LITTLE ROCK – Five years removed from an All-Sun Belt Conference career at UALR, Shane Edwards returned to Little Rock while preparing for his latest shot at an NBA roster. Edwards worked with Director of Athletic Performance John Barron at the Jack Stephens Center for over a month in preparation for the 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, which starts tomorrow.
“He always pushes me to the limit,” said Edwards on why he chose to come back to Little Rock and workout with Barron. “I know what I’m going to get out of him. It’s my job to stay in shape, keep my body up to par. My girlfriend lives here in Little Rock so that’s a big plus. But I get to come back here and workout with my old coaches, people that I know, and it’s just a benefit to me.”
Edwards’ spot on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ summer league roster comes just months after the organization signed him to a 10-day contract. Following 40 games that saw him average 13.3 points and 5.5 rebounds with the NBDL’s Canton Charge, Cleveland’s D-League affiliate, Edwards was called up for a 10-day stint with the Cavaliers.
“It was after a game,” said Edwards on how he learned of his 10-day contract with Cleveland. “We’d played a game and our GM was there and a guy from the Cavaliers’ staff was there. They brought me in the back and told me they wanted to sign me to a 10-day contract. We were on a road swing so I packed my stuff and left the next day.”
Edwards appeared in two games for the Cavaliers, including a 10-minute showing against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 20 that saw him score two points and grab a rebound. He returned to Canton in late March and made an immediate impact, posting a double-double with 32 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back with the team. He scored 20-plus in three of Canton’s next four games.
Edwards poured in 29 points on 14-of-19 shooting in Canton’s victory over the Sioux Falls Skyforce in game one of the opening round of the NBDL Playoffs. He scored in double figures in each of the next two games, but Sioux Falls earned victories in both to move on in the best-of-three series.
That sudden increase in production was due in no small part to a surge in confidence, Edwards admits. He had a similar experience when he earned NBDL All-Star honors with the New Mexico Thunderbirds following a stint with the Denver Nuggets that included the 2010 Summer League and an invitation to training camp.
Despite averaging 10.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 24.1 minutes per game that summer with the Nuggets, Edwards says he was initially a bit awestruck by his surroundings.
“When I was there, it was the old Denver Nuggets team – Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups – a lot of vets,” said Edwards. “It was kind of like a shock to me. I was more in awe of being there and just being around the type of player you watched growing up.”
He says those feelings quickly went away and it became just about basketball again, as he found that some of the same players he watched growing up were the ones most willing to help him improve.
“You do (get over being awestruck), because you realize those guys are very down to earth and really talk to you and help you out, on and off the court. They’ve got the experience, so they know what to do, how to approach things, stuff like that.”
Between his first NBA/NBDL stint and his most recent, Edwards went overseas for two seasons to play in Italy and Australia. Initially brought on by the 2011 NBA lockout, his time overseas, especially in League Due in Italy, was a different kind of learning experience.
“It was definitely nice,” said Edwards. “I was in a city called Verona, a real nice city where lots of tourists come in and out. But it’s just different. You don’t know anybody. Nobody really speaks your language besides some of your coaches and teammates. It’s kind of like a different world. You have to adjust.”
The actual leagues, both in Italy and Australia, showcased a different kind of basketball player than he’d grown used to competing against in Denver and New Mexico.
“It just depends on what team you get,” he said. “It can be more of a slow-paced game. Not as many athletes there, but a lot more skill players. Because those guys aren’t as athletic, they work on their skill a lot. A lot of guys have great footwork and great moves because they don’t get off the ground as much, but they use different tactics to get you off your feet.”
Now, Edwards says, his focus is on improving his perimeter skills, as his chances of making an NBA roster likely depend on his play at the small forward position instead of his natural power forward spot. More consistency on his 3-point jump shot and the ability to defend each of the three perimeter positions are two things he says he’d specifically like to showcase.
More than anything, though, Edwards wants to do keep doing the grunt work that helped him get to this point.
“My big thing, what I think about going into this, is to just do all the little things. All the hustle plays, playing defense, diving on loose balls – all the dirty work that these scouts really look for in a guy that’s going to go out and compete every day. That’s what I’m most worried about.”
Edwards and the Cavs begin summer league play with a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at 7 p.m. (CST). The game can be seen on NBA TV.