Sports Journalism Blog

By William Jones

Sports Capital Journalism Program

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Zach Edey’s path to the championship game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as the focus of the Purdue Boilermakers has been a journey that is a testament to his development as a player and leader.

Edey’s leadership became respected in the Purdue locker room because of the sacrifices that he made not just for the program, but himself.

It translated to an inability to profit from the NCAA rules allowing players to benefit from their name, image and likeness because of his status as a Canadian citizen.

“I understand kind of the legal process, it takes a while,” Edey said last Friday when he was named winner of the Oscar Robertson Trophy as U.S. Basketball Writers Association National Player of the Year for the second straight season.

“It’s not like it’s an NCAA rule,” Edey said. “It’s an American law.”

Edey’s Purdue teammates believe that his handling of the NIL situation became a reflection of his character.

Sophomore guard Braden Smith agreed with this assessment of being a selfless player.

“That’s who we all are as people,” Smith said. “We want to come back and play the game that we love, not just for other things like money and all that other stuff. So being able to kind of have a guy like him who’s now a two-time National Player of the Year that is so unselfish, he doesn’t care about himself and just wants to come back and win for the team and for coaches that show a lot about who he is.”

Edey, the 7-foot-4 center, will be scrutinized one last time as a college player when he is matched against 7-foot-2 sophomore Donovan Clingan of the UConn Huskies.

“We’ve been watching UConn play for the past two years now, and they’ve been in that race with us all regular season,” Edey says. “When you watch teams, you always want to play them, you see them on film, you see what they do and he’s playing really well this tournament.”

Edey has had six consecutive NCAA tournament games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, the longest streak in tournament history since Elvin Hayes of Houston in 1967-68.

Edey’s career averages over 40 minutes of 29.3 points, 15.5 rebounds 2.2 assists and 2.7 blocks have placed him in a statistical category with some of the greatest players in the modern history of the college game, including David Robinson of Navy, Shaquille O’Neal of LSU, Ralph Sampson of Virginia, Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston and Tim Duncan of Wake Forest.

The work ethic Edey demonstrated was obvious since Smith became a part of the team.

“He’s already in the gym working and trying to get better,” Smith says. “When you see a two-time National Player of the Year that wants to get better [and] wants to keep improving on his game, that kind of sets the tone for us other players like, ‘Hey, we got to build it around everybody, and everybody’s got to get in and get better and it will be a tough team to stop.’”

Edey’s development as a more confident unselfish player and one of the hardest working players has led Purdue to its first championship game appearance in 55 years.

It’s a moment that almost wouldn’t happened if he had chosen Baylor over Purdue during the recruiting process.

Purdue coach Matt Painter urged Edey to be competitive with the other players to avoid having to go through a redshirt season.

“I just said, ‘Hey, man, I can’t promise that to you,’” Painter remembered. “’But I’m not going to waste your year and not redshirt you if you’re not going to play. But come in here and beat somebody out.”

From those beginnings grew a dominant force at both ends of the floor that put the Boilermakers in position to compete for a national championship.

To listen to Edey, he would respond to his coach’s confidence by returning a favor.

“To win it for Paint, he’s a guy that’s believed in me from the start when a lot of people really didn’t,” Edey said. “To be able to give him that national title will be able to have people respect him like we all do and the way he should be respected,” Edey says.

“It would be amazing.”