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Imhotep's Justin Edwards finishes career as one of program's best

03/25/2023, 12:30am EDT
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

HERSHEY, PA — Justin Edwards first picked up a basketball when he was seven. He was a lean strand of bony elbows, and knees, attached to gangly arms and legs. He used to feel awkward about his height, dipping his head slightly, trying to make himself shrink, then sheepishly looking sideways at the other kids around him, because he was frequently the tallest on the court.

He looked the part of a player.

He wasn’t. Not in those early years.

“Justin was not good, absolutely not, I used to tell him all of the time that he used to be trash,” said Ebony Twiggs, Edwards’ mother, laughing. “He didn’t even start loving basketball until around seventh and eighth grade. When he began to love the game, he took off.”

Taking off to heights Twiggs and Edwards both could not even imagine.

Edwards, the 6-foot-8, 190-pound Imhotep wing bound for Kentucky, is the No. 1 high school player in the nation, according to

Imhotep senior Justin Edwards, left, and his mother Ebony Twiggs, right pose for a picture following Friday's state championship in Hershey. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

He closed an incredible high school career Friday night at Hershey’s Giant Center in an easy 78-40 Panthers’ victory over District 3 champion Exeter (27-7) capturing the second-straight PIAA Class 5A state championship for Imhotep (30-3) and getting legendary Panthers’ coach Andre Noble his ninth state title.

“This game was not easy for me,” Twiggs admitted. “When they put that gold medal around Justin’s neck, it hit me, this is his last high school game. I had a problem driving here today thinking about that. My son literally grew into a man at Imhotep.

“It is bittersweet. It’s like one day I was having a conversation with Brother Andre about Justin coming here to Imhotep, and now it’s over. It is why I am shedding a tear or two. This is family. This is different. I know Justin is going to Kentucky and I’m handing him off to another family, but this is different, because the players are so close, and all of the parents are so close.”

Two years ago, Edwards was the No. 56th-ranked player in the nation. He’s grown a few inches, added a few pounds, and the kid who was once self-conscious about his height now would like to get a few inches taller.

He’s impacted his teammates and been a foundational piece to one of Noble’s greatest teams.

“Justin made me better every day,” said Panthers’ sterling junior guard Ahmad Nowell, who recently received an offer from new St. John’s coach Rick Pitino to go along with the myriad offers he’s received already. “Justin definitely left an impact. These last two years have been amazing for me, with Justin being the top dog and me just being a dog, us going at each other, pushing each other every day.

“He helped me by coming at me with the same energy every day. There is definitely a culture here at Imhotep. This is a brotherhood that we want to maintain, and definitely want it here next year.”

This journey has taken Edwards throughout the country. Immediately after winning his second-straight state championship, Edwards had to catch a plane to Houston, Texas, for the 2023 McDonald’s All-American Game on Tuesday, March 28, at the Toyota Center.

It was not that long ago that Edwards thought about quitting basketball.  

“Justin came to me as a freshman, and he didn’t want to play anymore. He felt he had hit a roadblock,” Twiggs said. “He was getting yelled at at practice every day. He didn’t want to play anymore. I played basketball professionally in Europe. I know coaches see things in players that players do not see in themselves.

“Justin needed to learn how to play on both sides of the floor. He didn’t always do that, and coach Noble would let him know. Justin did not want to hear it. Coach Noble saw things in Justin. He said he did not feel the love of the game anymore. I talked him into staying with it.

“He plays both sides of the court now. All Justin has done is win here.”

Imhotep senior Justin Edwards dunk the ball Friday against Exeter in the PIAA 5A championship at the GIANT Center in Hershey. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Rahmir Barno, Imhotep’s senior guard heading to Florida Gulf Coast University to play for coach Pat Chambers, recalled the hard times. Barno and Edwards arrived at Imhotep together. They leave as two-time state champions.

“When we were younger, we were told that we were next up, and coach Andre didn’t let up on us,” Barno said. “I was in Justin’s ear, and he was in my ear. He’s had a positive impact on me, and we give advice to each other. He’s helped me so much in how to talk to people. This is more than a team. It is a family. Every team is different. This might be the closest group in my four years here.

“And we had a pretty good leader.”

Imhotep was denied state championships in Edwards’ freshman and sophomore years due to Imhotep ceasing student activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, or otherwise, Noble and the Panthers would likely be four-time state champions.

The Panthers made sure there was no doubt against Exeter—and made sure that they put an emphatic stamp on being the best team in the state, regardless of classification. Imhotep mercy-ruled Exeter by the third quarter and held a commanding 72-39 lead with 3:55 to play. The Panthers were up, 43-21, by halftime.

The game was predetermined. The only missing piece was the final score.

Edwards was having so much fun that when he missed a slam dunk off the front of the rim in the third quarter, he came up laughing. Before that, Edwards got called for a technical foul for hanging on to the rim on an alley oop. He laughed at that, too.

As time was winding down and the Panthers in firm control almost since the opening tap, Edwards came off the floor to a rousing ovation behind the Imhotep bench.

It’s the most fun Edwards had on a basketball court at Imhotep. He wore a perpetual smile while finishing as the game-high scorer with 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting, with 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.

“I did see things in Justin early on that he didn’t see in himself,” Noble said. “Once he got used to the work that he had to do, Justin became a great worker and embodies a lot of the things I like about our program. That’s being a defensive guy, being a hard worker, being a leader on the court. He’s developed into the young man that we hoped he would be.

“I told the guys that Rahmir and Justin are two of the greatest players that we’ve ever had here, joining that group of (Daron) “Fatts” Russell, Donta Scott and Brandon Austin. That is the group that Justin is now in.”   

For a few early years, Justin Edwards wondered where he belonged.

He leaves Imhotep as arguably its greatest player on a new stratum.

“I wanted to quit basketball at one point,” Edwards admitted. “The coaches stuck with me and believed in me. You see guys who think they have done everything, and they start to slack. No one can believe in you more than you believe in yourself. I tell people that all the time. I had to start believing in myself. This being my last time playing with my brothers, I wanted to cherish every moment. It is probably the most fun I had playing, because I did.”


Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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