Senior sensation Jade Edwards' leadership and scoring propelled AU basketball to new heights

The Chicago native was recently named Preseason Player of the Year

Senior sensation Jade Edwards' leadership and scoring propelled AU basketball to new heights
Senior Jade Edwards was recently named the Preseason Player of the Year.

In 2008, the Chicago Bulls added a young star from the area, Derrick Rose, who was not only an electric scorer but a box-office draw with memorable athleticism and confidence. Since then, the Chicago area has been looking for its next superstar, and it may have found one in senior Jade Edwards.

Edwards was recently named the Preseason Player of the Year, an acknowledgment of her stardom at American University and in last season’s Semifinals.

Edwards was a key part of her team’s postseason success, providing the productive offense (17.4 points per game, 52 percent field goal percentage) when the Eagles advanced to the Patriot League Semifinals for the first time since 2019, last season. A program steeped in postseason runs had a chance to become the Cinderella story of last season’s Patriot League postseason, though that dream was dashed by Boston University in the penultimate round. 

Last season didn’t come without its share of challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic cut the regular season to half of its typical length. Despite the chaos, the Eagles found a way into the Patriot League Tournament, competing against Navy to secure a spot in the quarterfinals. The spot in the Semifinals was a welcome surprise after the team had fewer regular-season games played than canceled or postponed.

During the rollercoaster season for AU, one thing was for certain: Jade Edwards was special.

“Consider the talent that she brings and the knowledge that she has for the game,” head coach Megan Gebbia said. “You combine that and you get one of best players in the Patriot League.”

During the season, Edwards averaged an incredible 17.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 52 percent from the field, 27.8 percent from the three-point line and 83.1 percent from the free-throw line.

The third-year guard also averaged a career-high 34.3 minutes per game. Her playing time proved to be pivotal for the team, as she broke her single-game career-highs in points, rebounds and steals all in a contest against Lehigh. In the season finale, Edwards finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds and five steals in 39 minutes, despite the 89-71 defeat.

“She’s added to her toolbox. She’s added different moves,” Gebbia said of Edwards’ development. “She’s put the time and effort and energy into it. She is the most talented player I’ve ever coached in my whole career, my entire career, she’s definitely that talented.”

“They stay on me. I could say for four years, they’ve stayed on me,” Edwards said. “Coach has consistently talked about goals and being on the same page, it’s just constant communication.”

Edwards is determined to continue improving her game.

“I’m pretty happy about it all,” Edwards said. “But I do wish we ended up winning the Semifinal game and going onto the championship.”

The making of a star student-athlete: At home in Chicago

It’s everything Edwards’ dreamed of since she was a little kid growing up in Chicago, a hot spot for basketball talent.

“Growing up, I always wanted to play college basketball,” Edwards said. “I never knew that I would end up being so successful at this level, but I definitely think about how I went for it and I’m happy where I’m at right now.”

Hard work, determination and sacrifice are foundational elements in the Edwards family. Edwards credits her mother for her core values as an athlete and person.

“Her sacrifice, her determination, putting in the time for things you want, I take that all from her,” Edwards said. “She’s definitely had the biggest role in my life in terms of going out there and working for what you want.”

Edwards’ earliest basketball memories are of watching the Chicago Bulls, admiring the black and red jerseys. Edwards said she was inspired watching the fellow Chicago native make plays to help his team win, so much so that she tries to take pieces of his game to add to her own. 

Edwards got her start at The Latin School of Chicago, a college preparatory school boasting several successful alumni— including Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and founder of Peak Mind Michael Trainer. Edwards’ freshman year at Latin came after the team won the conference title, but the young guard didn’t care about the high expectations of her team. Even as the team floundered under the weight of its success, Edwards cared about being the best teammate possible.

“She made everybody better on the court,” said Max Rouse, the head basketball coach at The Latin School. “She was a willing passer who wanted to get others involved and she loved to compete with her teammates.”

He remembers her established routine at The Latin School: staying late after practice, watching the sunset and “finding a hoop somewhere,” Rouse said. 

Edwards was never satisfied with her current play, Rouse said. She always desired to improve on various aspects of her game. Rouse remembered the summer in between her sophomore and junior year. Instead of hanging out with friends, Rouse saw Edwards in the gym, perfecting her jump shot late into the night. 

“She came back in better shape with a whole new set of skills to her game that were not there before and you could tell that she had worked,” Rouse said. “When the lights were not on, she was there grinding on her own.”

Edwards’ greatest accomplishment at the Latin School of Chicago came in the 2018 Holiday Tournament. Before the tournament, Latin played Marshall High School, one of the celebrated programs in Chicago. After the game, Edwards told Rouse that if the team plays up to its potential as it did against Marshall, nobody would stop them.

“We were really close and I was really proud of that game,” Edwards said. “We put up a good fight.”

Before the tournament began, Edwards told Rouse, “I am ready for this moment.” Her words turned into action on the court, as Edwards became the leading scorer of the tournament, and Edwards’ scoring propelled Latin to its fourth consecutive regional championship in 2018.

It was at that moment that Rouse knew Edwards was different.

“She basically announced on the biggest stage that I’ve arrived,” Rouse said. “From that point forward, the sky’s been the limit.”

Moving onward and upward

Opportunity struck when Gebbia saw Edwards play in Baltimore for a summer league tournament, the opportunity presented itself. During the recruiting process, Edwards reconnected with AU, wanting to play for a program with a successful coaching staff and compete in the nation’s capital. Her conversations with coach Megan Gebbia convinced her to make the move. 

“I committed on the last day of my official visit,” Edwards said. “The coaching staff, the team, the city, the university – it was the full package for me, and I think I fit in pretty well.”

In her freshman season, Edwards played regularly, averaging 21.7 minutes per game.

As AU prepares for the upcoming season, the team is relishing the moment to play on the national stage once again. It’s a testament to the belief the players have in each other and the culture Gebbia is building at AU. 

The Chicago kid who stayed late at The Latin School gym will now have the chance to show the world what she’s made of, with a potential draft selection to the WNBA on the horizon. 

The Seattle Storm drafted Lafayette forward Natalie Kucowski in this year’s WNBA Draft, making it the second consecutive year a Patriot League player was drafted. Last spring, Holy Cross forward Lauren Manis was selected by the Las Vegas Aces.

“She sees that and says to herself, ‘I’m just as good as them, if not better,’” Gebbia said. “She knows she’s different, and she’s going to prove it this year.”

sports@theeagleonline.com 

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