Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
Coming out of St. Laurence School in Upper Darby, Malik Edwards was highly coveted by the two neighboring rival Catholic high schools: Bonner-Prendie and Cardinal O’Hara. He chose the latter, due to his familiarity with then-head coach Jason Harrigan, who had been recruiting Edwards since he was in sixth grade.
After Harrigan resigned from O’Hara in 2018, an opportunity presented itself for new Bonner head coach Kevin Funston. Funston remembered seeing Edwards in eighth grade and he was impressed.
Malik Edwards (above, last season) will head to William Penn in Iowa for his college career. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Malik was little back then, like a tiny skinny kid with a headband, but could really shoot it… I really liked his game,” Funston said.
Once word got out that Edwards was looking to change schools after his freshman year at O’Hara, Funston knew he had to cash in on the opportunity to get the guard from “down the street” in Lansdowne. Getting Edwards to Bonner was one of the first things he did to start his tenure because the skill and effort Edwards showed as an eight grader had further developed in one year of high school basketball.
“To get a kid in your backyard, there's so many positives around that,” Funston said. “The community supporting him so much and the fact that he's so close to the gym, that means he can spend as much time in the gym working out… It just kind of all just worked out.”
Funston liked that nothing nor anybody could speed Edwards up, that he was unselfish even at that age and that his cool, calm demeanor extended off the court as well. And by the time he had stepped into the gym at Bonner, he had even grown a few inches.
“I did a double take when I saw him, like, ‘Wow, that's the same kid’... but he was still long and gangly, which to me was like, all right, I don't think he's done growing. He had huge hands, big feet,” Funston said.
In Edwards’ first year at Bonner during the 2018-2019 season, he proved to be a pivotal player, earning a starting spot by the time the PCL playoffs came around; the Friars made it all the way to the state championship. As a junior, he was the third leading scorer on a Friars’ team that made it to the quarterfinals of the PIAA tournament before the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Last year was a different story, however. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Bonner especially hard, as the Friars were only able to play seven total games (3-4) due to cancellations. Even still, Edwards' scoring prowess was on full display, leading the Catholic League in scoring, averaging 22.4 points per game, which resulted in a first-team all-Catholic nod.
The scoring uptick could’ve been predicted, but the normally reserved Edwards also became more vocal during his final high school season. That’s what he hopes to bring to the next level when he joins perennial National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) powerhouse William Penn next season.
“I had to be more of a leader… I grew out of my cool factor and shy factor how I used to be,” Edwards said. “Being a senior this year really made me speak up and show that I can do that. And I'm definitely going to do that at the next level, even though I'm maybe one of the youngest guys on the team.”
After Funston and Bonner assistant coach Christopher Clahar extended the reach of who they were pushing Edwards' film to, there was a lot of positive feedback from schools like Hartford, Southern Nazarene and the University of District of Columbia. But most notably, William Penn reached out to Edwards after Bonner’s game against Archbishop Wood this past year.
And his recruitment heated up from that point on. Led by William Penn assistant coach Blake Sandquist, the school was in contact with Edwards everyday, in contrast to the two NCAA Division I schools — Dartmouth and Mt. St. Mary’s — who showed interest, but never offered him a scholarship.
Malik Edwards (above, last season) averaged 22.4 ppg last season, despite the Friars being limited to only seven games. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“There was a couple NCAA schools that were reaching out to me… It wasn't offers that they really wanted me to come.” Edwards said, “But William Penn, the assistant coach Sandquist, he was really like the main factor. He was showing me all the love, sending me and my family gear. It was just real love for me.”
When Edwards was not getting the offers Funston thought he deserved, Funston got nervous, even suggesting that Edwards take the prep school route.
“It was really cool and rare and refreshing for him to say, ‘I just want to go play. I don't care what level, just as long as it's a good fit… I just want to make sure it's the right place for me.’” Funston said. “You don't really hear that too often... I think that's the reason why he's going to be super successful at William Penn.”
After announcing his commitment to William Penn on March 3, Edwards was able to take a visit to Oskaloosa, Iowa, and, as expected, he knows that he’ll have to get over the culture shock of going from Lansdowne to the Midwest. Most notably, living in a new time zone and being around a lot more open space. And outside of his family and friends, he knows he’s going to miss the local delicacies of the Philadelphia area more than anything.
“Can't get those Philly cheesesteaks, no more and Wawa,” Edwards said. “Those my two go-tos. I'm going to miss those the most.”
But after getting over the initial culture shock, William Penn appeals to Edwards for some obvious reasons. Evidenced by his scoring output last year, Edwards knows how to put the ball in the hoop. For most of his high school career, he did his damage from the perimeter (last year he hit 50% of his three point shots), but after putting on muscle going into his senior year, he was a stronger finisher around the rim. His offensive production should gel well with William Penn, who led the NAIA in scoring last year (99.11 points per game), leading to a 25-2 record.
“My playstyle really fits the way that they play,” Edwards said. “They're not really like a set team, like they push the pace, they shoot a lot of threes, they throw alley oops. Everything is just like a real fast paced style.”
Since moving up to NAIA Division I in 2015-2016, the Statesmen have won the Heart of America Athletic Conference four of the last five years. And under coach John Henry, 25 players have gone on to play professionally across the globe during his 20-year tenure. Both the recent success and professional alumni aligned with Edwards’ collegiate goals.
“[Winning a] conference championship,” Edwards said when describing what a successful collegiate career would be for him. “And a national championship for sure, and, if I do my job, I know everything else will fall in place and then, hopefully, make it to the next level.”
The 6-foot-3, 160-pound guard knows he has to excel at the collegiate level to achieve his ultimate goal of playing professionally. And that starts with continuing to build out his body so he can hold his spot better defensively and absorb contact more effectively at the rim.
Once he makes that adjustment, Funston predicts there will be a lot of college coaches doing the same double-take he did when Edwards walked into Bonner’s gym in 2018.
“I couldn't believe that everybody went silent on him because it's like, dude’s leading the league in scoring,” Funston said. “He's going to make a lot of people look silly when he goes to William Penn and dominates. And it's not even dominating by scoring, I think, just dominating by being a great player, great student, a great teammate.”