Hickey: Zach Edey is an unstoppable train bound for National Player of the Year
When you’re in the business of giving takes, many of them hot, there’s bound to be misses. Some of those misses are worse than others. Like, Mike Vanderjagt against the Steelers in the NFL playoffs bad.
One such example? My preseason Purdue/Zach Edey skepticism.
“How many minutes can Edey log every game?” I pondered in a preseason Big Ten basketball roundtable with Kyle Charters.
Oh, I don’t know. How about all 40?
OK, so that’s only happened once, when Edey played 43 minutes of Purdue’s 65-62 overtime win at Nebraska. But Edey has been on the floor for 83.5% of Purdue’s available minutes in Big Ten games, which ranks 11th among all players in the conference.
And that brings us to a hot take that’s as likely to land as an Edey dunk.
Zach Edey is a runaway train destined become Purdue’s first Wooden Award winner since Glenn Robinson.
Zach Edey: The even bigger dog
Robinson, of course, sported one of the great nicknames in basketball history: Big Dog. His bruising play lived up to it.
But if Robinson was a big dog, Edey is a Great Dane: 7-4 and 305 pounds.
There have been plenty of players Edey’s size before, but it feels safe to assert the majority moved pretty stiffly. That’s not the case for Edey. As is mentioned in any Purdue game broadcast, Edey grew up playing hockey in Toronto before his growth facilitated an obvious transition to basketball.
And though he’s no longer on skates, Edey can move like he is.
Edey’s game-winning bucket at Michigan State on Monday demonstrates both principles at work — unstoppable size combined with mesmerizing footwork.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 16, 2023
Edey’s game-winning shot was the capper in a 32-point, 17-rebound performance in a nationally televised game on a national holiday. His odds to win the Wooden Award are now -330 on DraftKings. That’s roughly the same return as a money line bet on the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the New York Giants this weekend.
The Eagles are a 7.5-point favorite in a home playoff game. Against 1 individual opponent. Edey, in a season that is only halfway complete, is considered to have the same chances against a field that includes every player in the country.
That’s how dominant his season has been so far.
Edey leads all power conference players in scoring with 21.9 points per game and leads the entire country with 13.4 rebounds per game. Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, who is second in rebounding (13.1 rpg), is the defending Wooden winner.
Measured by Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year metrics, Edey is putting together the best season by any player since Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in 2015. Kaminsky won the Wooden while leading the Badgers to the national championship game.
Coming into the season, there was no question that Edey could play. Despite averaging 19 minutes per game last year, Edey was second-team all-B1G with 14.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
The only unknown was Edey’s durability. Hockey guys, after all, are known for entering the game in short bursts of max effort before hitting the bench for a quick breather.
It’s now quite evident that stamina had nothing to do with his minutes.
Matt Painter simply wanted to utilize the talent of fellow center Trevion Williams, who possessed a unique skill-set for a big man. Even though the Boilermakers had a top-5 draft pick at point guard in Jaden Ivey, the 6-11 Williams was arguably the team’s best passer. (That’s no strawman argument, by the way. Williams is one of the smoothest-passing bigs this side of Nikola Jokic.)
With Williams currently playing in the G-League, there’s no need for Painter to get creative and share time. He can ride his Great Dane.
Edey’s increased production isn’t just a byproduct of increased playing time, though. As someone who came to basketball late — he didn’t start playing until his junior year in high school — his game had plenty of room for growth. And now it’s blossoming.
In the summer of 2021, Edey was the last player cut from the Canadian national team. Last summer, he made the roster for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers. And by the time the World Cup is played this summer, Edey may well be splitting time with Kelly Olynyk as Canada’s center.
Purdue’s legend in the making
But before reaching that ambition, there’s still a bit of business for Edey to take care of on this side of the border.
As everyone involved with Purdue basketball is well aware, the Boilermakers haven’t reached the Final Four since 1979. Purdue has only made it as far as the Elite Eight once since 2000.
Come March, that gorilla unfailingly attaches itself to Purdue’s back. Fortunately, Edey has pretty wide shoulders. Getting the Boilers over that hump would secure him with an unshakable place in program lore.
Of course, that place may already be secure well before the Final Four.
Edey is on track to become Purdue’s 3rd consensus national player of the year, joining Robinson (1994) and the John Wooden Award’s namesake himself (1932).
Robinson and Wooden’s names will never be forgotten in West Lafayette. And right now, Edey looks poised to put his own on that very short list.