In the immediate aftermath of what was clearly a crushing loss for Purdue Boilermakers junior guard Carsen Edwards, a product of Humble Atascocita in the 2016 recruiting class, Texas Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart had some words for him.
And although Smart wasn’t willing to disclose what was said during that conversation, it seems reasonable to speculate about what he might have said after Edwards scored 40 points in an all-time great Erwin Center performance.
“I’m sorry for not recruiting you. I made a mistake. You should have been wearing burnt orange and white tonight.”
Edwards, a preseason All-American and the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, was sensational in becoming only the third opposing player to score 40 or more points in the Erwin Center. Whether he was coming off screens off the ball or making one-on-one plays off the bounce, every shot he took seemed like it had a chance to go in.
Scratch that — every shot he took seemed like it was going to go in, no matter the level of difficulty.
The unreal performance was the highlight of a scalding hot start to his season. Through 10 games, Edwards hasn’t scored fewer than 19 points, though he has had some inefficient games.
Still, Edwards is living up to his preseason billing and ranks as the top guard in the country, according to Burnt Orange Nation’s own Jeff Haley. He’s building on a sophomore season that saw him 18.5 points per game before deciding to withdraw from the NBA Draft in order to do exactly what he did on Sunday — prove that he can score at a high level even against good defenses primed to stop him.
He also never really heard anything from the Longhorns during his recruiting process, he told BON after the game.
To be sure, Edwards was a sensational find for Purdue head coach Matt Painter — Edwards was the nation’s No. 139 prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and didn’t have any offers from powerhouse programs. His best offers? Baylor, Kansas State, and Texas Tech.
So Smart wasn’t the only coach who made a mistake in not extending an offer to the 6’0, 175-pounder. And, in Smart’s defense, the 2016 recruiting class was his first full cycle with the Longhorns as he learned the landscape of basketball recruiting in the Lone Star State.
What happened, then?
Smart had just arrived at Texas in early April with the task of evaluating a remarkable Houston-area point guard class, the best group from that city since the 2001 class headlined by eventual Longhorns star TJ Ford.
The top target for virtually every program in the country was Katy Cy Lakes standout De’Aaron Fox, who eventually signed with Kentucky as the nation’s No. 6 prospect. Smart didn’t have enough time to build a relationship with Fox and the Longhorns missed his final list of seven schools that August.
There was JJ Caldwell, who eventually signed with Texas A&M. Perhaps it was just as well that Texas didn’t offer, as Caldwell was kicked off the team as a redshirt freshman back in February following a violation of A&M policy.
There was Houston Yates gunner Jacob Young, the younger brother of former Oregon standout Joseph Young. The nation’s No. 23 point guard, Young held offers from Baylor, Duquesne, and Memphis.
There was Edwards, eventually ranked just behind Young as the nation’s No. 25 point guard. He held offers from Baylor, Kansas State, Purdue, and Texas Tech, along with some smaller schools. He committed to the Boilermakers in August of 2015 after an official visit at the end of June.
Young, meanwhile, had already pledged to Texas in a whirlwind recruitment that featured a June visit before his offer and another visit after his offer that produced a commitment only 10 days after the Horns officially entered his recruitment.
Now at Rutgers following two up-and-down seasons that at times highlighted Young’s lack of consciousness as a scorer in positive ways, his brief Texas career more often highlighted that lack of consciousness in negative ways.
Young didn’t play in several games as a sophomore, including an appearance in only one of four games following a critical foul on star Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans on a three-point attempt to contribute to an overtime loss in Lubbock.
In the Big 12 Tournament, though, Young got his payback against Texas Tech by scoring 29 points on only 17 shots by hitting 6-of-7 three-point attempts in another close loss. On that night, Young showed the upside as a scorer that Smart and the Texas staff surely thought they were getting during Young’s recruitment in 2015.
However, the two games sandwiched around Young’s best performance for the Longhorns were indicative of his inconsistency — he only made 7-of-21 shots from the field and hit only two of 13 three-point attempts.
Less than a week after the NCAA Tournament loss to Nevada, Young left the program.
Since Smart clearly missed his evaluation of Edwards by offering Young instead, BON asked him about that decision following the historic performance by the Purdue star, an admittedly difficult question.
Smart laughed. Paused. Acknowledged it as a good question.
“I had a message for Carsen after the game about that,” Smart said.
“We knew he was a really good player. He played on a loaded AAU team with a guy named De’Aaron Fox that was kinda the guy in the state of Texas at that time. In retrospect, Carsen was even better than he played, just because he was on that team with so many guys. And that happens so often.”
In fact, that Houston Hoops AAU team also featured Kentucky signee Jarred Vanderbilt, the nation’s No. 12 player in the 2017 class, Texas A&M signee Robert Williams, Texas signee Royce Hamm Jr., and Chandler. Every player on the team played or is playing Division I basketball, including another A&M signee in Isiah Jasey. Fox, Vanderbilt, and Williams are all hooping in the NBA now.
“We knew he was really good,” Smart said. “We made the decision that we made — and obviously, you can do that all the time in recruiting. Look back, and say, ‘We should have done this or we should have done that,’ but obviously he’s a phenomenal player and he was terrific tonight.”
Indeed, hindsight is 20/20 and no one nationally knew just how good Edwards would become.
Considering that Edwards was a contributor for Purdue as a freshman during a season in which Texas didn’t have a true point guard and has now become one of the nation’s best at his position, however, it’s clear that Smart and his staff made a mistake.
On Sunday, that mistake was on clear display nationally as Edwards proved that he could be the difference between an increasingly hot coaching seat for Smart and a team capable of scoring consistently enough to avoid devastating losses like those against Radford and VCU.