The most difficult part of guessing, rooting for, and trying to decide what Zach Edey will or won’t do in regards to the NBA Draft, is that, as he’s said multiple times over the last week, there’s no wrong choice.
Zach Edey has conquered college basketball as much as one can in such a short time. He went from an unknown tall kid to surprising bench player to part-time best big in the country to best player in the country in the matter of three calendar years. His growth in basketball skill and aptitude parallels only with the physical growth his body demonstrated throughout his life.
His body made him a giant. His work ethic, determination, and uncanny athleticism and soft touch for a guy that big made him a basketball giant.
Now he’s removed from the heart of the NBA Combine. He did very little at the Combine, but what he did do showed both what everyone already knew – he’s massive – as well as some potentially eye-popping athletic scoring. But we’ll get back to that.
Before we go there, let’s appreciate the difficulty of this moment.
At one end, Purdue had a historically surprising year last season. Two true freshman took over a back court that was previously manned by one of the best guards in college basketball and top-five NBA pick, Jaden Ivey. Gone was Purdue’s stalwart in the post, Trevion Williams.
This was a rebuilding year for Matt Painter after a season where Purdue reached #1 for the first time.
Instead, Purdue ran through Portland and the Phil Knight Invitational and back to the #1 team in the country. For seven weeks, Purdue held that spot in the season.
Zach Edey emerged from unknown to absolute favorite for National Player of the Year. An award he won, unanimously, swiping up each major Player of the Year award for the season.
This is where the job as a fan and prospector gets difficult. Edey’s dual paths do not serve the same master, and it’s almost impossible to pull the two apart.
For anyone rooting for and involved with Purdue basketball, the pull to think Edey’s best choice is to come back might have roots in logic and good cause, but the self-interest is too much to ignore.
Edey’s return would be a Purdue program entering the season with expectations impossible to imagine before last year’s success. Purdue might not come into the season #1, but it won’t be far off, and it won’t take much to claim the #1 ranking for a third straight season.
Edey’s dominance allowed Purdue to run through the Big Ten, and his return would mean that the entirety of last year’s team would return minus David Jenkins Jr. and a transferring Brandon Newman.
But Zach Edey wants to play in the NBA. He’s not alone in that. Every player in college basketball has aspirations to play the sport they’ve already devoted major portions of their life to at the highest of its levels.
At the end of last season’s heart breaking loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, a crushed Edey was grappling with a future he was hoping would wait a few more weeks to touch. There was a hole in the white board, and an unknown fist responsible, but the weight of that anger and disappointment along with the metaphor of that hole was in reach for the center who measured with the longest wing span at the NBA Combine.
Despite all that Edey accomplished at Purdue, his time there could be the only thing short about him if someone in the NBA says the right words. Grappling with that legacy, a loss of that magnitude, is a snag on what’s been a fairy tale story.
But Edey making the NBA… that’s the kind of based on a true story story that’s too good to believe.
But to make that story true, Edey had to show some of the aspects of his game that hide underneath the 7-4 frame. So he set out for the NBA Combine to prove people wrong again.
“I think I’ve just shown I can move my feet better than a lot of people think,” Edey said. “I’ve shown that I’m legit in the size that I’m listed at and the weight that I’m listed at… I think I showed in testing drills that I really can. I can move my feet with a lot of people that have been successful in the NBA at my size and my height.”
Edey’s size is unmatched in this draft and most drafts, but 300 lbs. centers aren’t unheard of in the NBA. Size can still be king in a league that has gone more and more perimeter oriented. During the week he mentioned a few he hoped to emulate: Brook Lopez, Jonas Valanciunas, Ivica Subac, and Steven Adams. Brutues who dominate by grabbing rebounds and setting hard screens.
Edey’s already causing issues for other players in work outs with teams with his screen setting. Edey needs just one team to see enough in him to guarantee a chance
Zach Edey is impossible not to root for. The only dilemma for Purdue fans, his teammates, and the coaches is in what direction to root for him.
Matt Painter echoed Edey’s sentiment about Edey’s two roads at the Mad Anthony’s Red Coat Gala on Sunday.
“He has a win-win situation. He comes back to Purdue, I think it’s a total positive move. But it’s also a positive move to go pro because he’s not gonna go pro without some NBA teams really telling him he’s gonna get a spot with them, how great they think he is, and that he can come into the NBA and play. That’s really what he’s looking for, he’s looking for that golden opportunity.”
The NBA is the golden opportunity, but it’s hard to not think of what could be with one more gold and black opportunity. Purdue looms, one giant away perhaps, from breaking through that Cinderella ceiling in March.
But Matt Painter is confident the same way that Edey is confident. The team will be good with or without Edey. That’s what Painter is trying to build at Purdue. A program, not just a team dependent on one big man.
Both futures look bright. It’s probably unfair to say, but the futures would look brighter together.
But that’s just the bias in me, wanting one of college basketball’s best stories of the last decade to stay in college.
And while the headline will be about Edey’s decisions, there’s still room for subtext:
While being lauded as just big by opposing fan bases, and proving that he is in fact, very big, Zach Edey also proved that beneath the 7-4, 300 lbs. is also something of a freak athlete. For your (admittedly petty) consideration:
Here is a list of players that were slower on their lane agility time than Zach Edey (11.37 seconds):
Kobe Brown, GG Jackson, Maxwell Lewis, Jordan Miller, DaRon Holmes II, Adama Sanogo, Emoni Bates, Trey Alexander, Chris Livingston, Tristan Vukcevic, Kobe Bufkin, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Jalen Pickett, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Ryan Kalkbrenner.