At Kentucky, Allen Edwards played three years for Rick Pitino (1994-97), and one year (1997-98) for Tubby Smith.
Now that Edwards is the men’s basketball coach at the University of Wyoming, he envisions a playing style somewhere in between those he was a part of under Ricky P. and Tubby.
“With Coach P and that ’96 team, we picked you up 94 feet (defensively) and we never let up,” Edwards said last week. “Playing for Tubby, he more picked his spots with the full-court pressure, and we were really sound in the half-court. I want to get to the point where we’re playing somewhere in the middle of that.”
Edwards, 40, had been an assistant on Larry Shyatt’s staff at Wyoming since 2011. When Shyatt stepped down in March after a 14-18 season, the Wyoming administration interviewed all three of the Cowboys’ assistants — Edwards, Scott Duncan and Jeremy Shyatt, Larry’s son.
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“The timing was right for (Edwards) to become a head coach,” Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman explained to the Casper Star-Tribune. “If we didn’t hire him, someone else was.”
Wyoming now has something rare — a head coach with two NCAA championship rings as a player.
At UK, Edwards was a contributing reserve on Pitino’s 10-deep, mega-talented 1996 NCAA champs; he was a starter on Smith’s veteran-savvy ’98 title team.
On Wyoming recruiting trips, Edwards does not wear his UK championship rings. “I figure talking about them has the same impact,” he said.
During his playing days, Edwards came to Kentucky from Miami in 1994 as a well-regarded recruit. Yet, rather than immediate stardom, Edwards did something you don’t see much now: He waited his turn, then sacrificed his individual game for the good of the team.
“It was just a different era back then,” Edwards said.
As a junior on the UK team that lost to Arizona in overtime in the 1997 NCAA finals, Edwards averaged 8.6 points. Part of the Comeback Cats national title team in 1998, Edwards averaged 9.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
The ’97 title that got away eats at Edwards, who played in that Final Four in spite of having a stress fracture in his ankle. “I just didn’t feel like I was able to give the other (UK players) my best,” he said.
Now, Edwards says many of the coaches and parents of recruits remember him from his days at Kentucky. Others recall him as the youngest of three brothers who were all successful major college basketball players. Doug Edwards was a star at Florida State in the early 1990s, and Steve Edwards was a standout at Miami (Fla.) in the mid-90s.
After his UK playing days, Edwards spent a year as a special assistant to Tubby Smith. Kyle Macy then hired Edwards as an assistant coach at Morehead State. After stints at VCU and Towson, Edwards spent one season as an aide at Western Kentucky (2010-11).
Larry Shyatt — Billy Donovan’s right-hand-man and de facto “defensive coordinator” with Florida’s back-to-back NCAA title teams in 2006 and ’07 — brought Edwards to Wyoming five years ago.
Last offseason, Edwards interviewed for the head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky. That position ultimately went to Minnesota assistant Dan McHale, but “I think going through that process really helped me here at Wyoming,” Edwards said. “I felt like I knew how to best present my ideas and my background.”
With a population of some 585,000 people, the state of Wyoming is not exactly a robust producer of college basketball talent. So Edwards’ success will ride on how well he fares in luring out-of-state talent to Laramie.
The Wyoming team Edwards inherits loses star guard Josh Adams (24.7 points per game) to graduation but is slated to return other key contributors, including guard Jason McManamen (14.4 ppg) and 6-foot-9 forward Alan Herndon (7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Wyoming does have some basketball tradition. In 1943, the Cowboys won the NCAA championship.
Led by current Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming went 25-10 in 2014-15 and won the Mountain West Conference Tournament before losing to Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament round of 64.
The Cowboys have not won an NCAA tourney game since 2002, however.
Looking to find the happy medium between “Pitino ball” and “Tubby ball,” Wyoming’s new head coach wants to change that.
“I want to make the name ‘Wyoming’ nationally known for basketball,” Allen Edwards said. “I’ve said this here, I do not believe this has to be a place that only contends for (league) championships once every four or five years. My goal here is take things to the next level.”