CENTRAL POINT — What seemed innocent at the time has actually served as a jumping off point, so to speak, for Crater boys basketball standout Kiefer Edwards.
While participating in the annual Mail Tribune All-Star Basketball Classic last March, Edwards found a seam while in transition, rose up and sent shockwaves through the crowd with an electrifying two-handed jam.
It was the first time Edwards had ever dunked in a game.
And, oh boy, did the 6-foot-6, 180-pound forward enjoy that feeling.
“That was really big for me,” says Edwards. “That gave me the confidence to dunk in a game and it’s just taken off from there.”
As a junior this season, Edwards has taken his game to new heights in averaging 20.5 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Comets (11-10, 4-7 Midwestern League) entering Friday’s 7:45 p.m. home game against Marist (7-14, 5-6).
Edwards has scored at least 32 points in three of his last five games, including a career-high 35 against Ashland two weeks ago and a nine-dunk highlight-reel show in a 32-point effort last Friday over North Eugene.
“He’s been on a steady upward trend since I’ve had him,” said Crater head coach Chris Schmerbach, “but he’s really starting to figure out how other teams are playing him. He’s getting everyone’s best defender and demanding a lot of double teams and just done a really nice job of adjusting his game and figuring out how to attack that.”
And although Edwards may be soft-spoken and appear unassuming at first glance, his knack for getting to the basket and finishing with authority is anything but tame.
“He’s got bounce and because he can get to the rim so well,” says Schmerbach, “when he gets his eye on that now, he’s really attacking it and dunking everything, which is kind of cool.”
“The great thing about it is a lot of kids out there can dunk,” adds the coach, “but that’s really just a small part of his game. Without a doubt he’s an exceptional athlete, but with his frame and athleticism combined with the basketball fundamentals and skills he has, Kiefer has a chance to be a really, really special player.”
Edwards is shooting at a 38-percent clip from 3-point range, an aspect of his game he has worked hard to further develop, and is a steady shooter from the foul line (78 percent) and inside the arc (58 percent). He’s also managed 30 assists, 25 blocks and 25 steals in 21 games this season.
For as diverse of a player as Edwards is, there’s no denying his strength is in taking the ball to the basket.
“He does a lot of things really well and I’ve had a lot of college coaches ask me the one thing he does best,” says Schmerbach, “and I have to say he really does a great job of finding his way to the basket, probably better than anyone I’ve ever coached.”
For his part, Edwards credits his coaches and teammates for helping his development, with them providing a steady push and constant support over the years. It also hasn’t hurt that the former middle school point guard shot up to 6-2 his freshman year and is another 4 inches taller today.
“I’ve thought about that a lot and I think it definitely has helped me that I had to develop point guard skills and then I grew,” says Edwards. “Now I can play a much wider range of positions and really stretch the court.”
As for the dunks, it’s all just been how the game has played out for Edwards.
“I just drive in and if it’s open, I’ll go for it,” he says. “It’s really just a second thought to dunk it, but it’s so much fun. It feels great and I love being able to give energy to my teammates. It’s just so uplifting and pushes our team to keep going.”
Still, in his wildest dreams, Edwards never thought he would have a game where he dunked the ball nine times, as he did against North Eugene.
“I never once thought of something like that,” he says. “I’ve got to give props to my teammates for getting me the ball in great positions. I really think things were just opening up for me. I got an early dunk on the first play of the game on a pass from my brother (Kooper), and after that, my teammates had a knack for getting me the ball in open lanes.”
That trust in one another has served Crater well, even during tough times in the challenging MWL. What also has helped is the steady play of Mason Vranes, a junior co-captain with Edwards. Vranes is shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and averaging 12.8 points per game. There's also been increased production from senior Nate White, junior Cade Weaver and sophomores Nate Horton and Garrett Dance.
“I’m having so much fun and I’m so glad I have the best teammates,” says Edwards. “Really, it’s just about having fun for me, that’s the biggest thing. Well, having fun and winning. I’m so ready to make this playoff push, our whole team is, really. We’re definitely hungry to make a big push here at the end of the season.”
After Friday, the Comets will host Ashland on Tuesday before capping the regular season at Thurston. Crater is too far down the standings to earn an automatic berth in the Class 5A state playoffs, but the Comets can keep their postseason hopes alive with a state play-in opportunity. The Nos. 3-6 MWL teams qualify for a play-in game against a Mid-Willamette Conference squad, with Crater in line to finish as high as third.
“You can’t get too caught up with wins and losses in our league because of how well the teams are doing this year,” says Schmerbach. “We have a lot of teams all bunched up, but our goal really is to keep improving and be playing our best basketball at the end, and I think we’re doing that.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry