Freshman guard Celeste Edwards (5) dribbles up the floor during a game against Saint Joseph’s University, Sunday, Feb. 23, at UD Arena. Dayton defeated SJU 82-56 to clinch its second consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference regular season crown. SAN KUMAR/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
By: Keith Raad – Staff Writer
“I kind of blacked out. I couldn’t remember it.”
Celeste Edwards was referring to her post-game interview with Rosalyn Gold-Onwude of ESPNU after the University of Dayton women’s basketball team clinched the regular season Atlantic 10 Conference title against St. Joseph’s University, Sunday, Feb. 22, at UD Arena.
The national television spotlight might have created too many jitters for Edwards, but the last few weeks have been trial by fire – no jitters allowed.
The freshman point guard, and Indianapolis, Ind. native, has adapted to the role of everyday starter after sophomore guard Kelley Austria sustained a season-ending injury on Jan. 22.
Edwards now averages 34.4 minutes per game, instead of the 20.7 she averaged before her teammate’s injury.
“I actually adapted pretty quickly,” Edwards said. “It was kind of shocking how fast it happened. But I’m getting extra reps in the gym, getting in before practice and even after practice sometimes.”
Although Austria will not be seen running the Dayton offense until next season, she’s passing on as many tips as she can to Edwards.
“I definitely take a lot of pointers from her,” Edwards said. “She’s in my ear on the bench letting me know what I need to do here and there… I definitely have to step up. It’s kind of a last minute thing. But I’ve been putting in the work to try to fulfill the needs of the team and trying to pull this out for [Kelley].”
Since Austria’s exit from the hardwood, the not-so-timid Edwards has won consecutive A-10 Rookie of the Week awards.
With the new playing time, Edwards has taken advantage of the responsibility, and has adapted to the burden.
“I’m adjusting well,” Edwards said. “In the beginning [of the season] I would take [around] four shots, but now I’m settling down and taking better shots. I’m more accurate and consistent.”
The numbers scream for themselves: Edwards is averaging 15.5 ppg since Austria’s injury, after only averaging 5.1 prior to Jan. 22.
One of her brightest moments came at home Feb. 5, against Virginia Commonwealth University. With the game tied at 69, Edwards nailed a 3-point jumper with 23 seconds left in regulation to beat the Rams.
Head Coach Jim Jabir described Celeste with one word: “fearless.”
“She can make 15 mistakes in a row and she wants the ball the 16th time,” Jabir said. “That’s a strength. She’s really grown into the game, she understands it better. But I love her spunk, I love her vitality, she’s fearless and I think that’s a great, great ability to be able to have.”
After losing Austria, an All-Conference Defensive Team starter, it’s not the Edwards’ raw talent that has made her transition so special, but her ability to take the reigns as a leader.
“She’s become very coachable; I think more than anyone I’ve coached in a very long time,” Jabir said. “Her maturation has been really, really steep. She’s really come a long, long way in a short time. You talk to her and she looks you in the eye, answers questions, nods, she’s been terrific.”
Running the Flyers’ offense comes with Jabir’s competitive coaching during the game, but Edwards said she respects everything her coach tells her and her team.
“I take what he says and I just apply it,” Edwards said. “I know that it comes with the territory.”
Jabir’s not the only one who gives tough love.
“[Sophomore guard] Amber Deane is my biggest mentor,” Edwards said. “On the court, off the court she’s screaming at me when I need it. She’s in my ear too.”
Edwards’ basketball niche is underrated when it comes to collegiate basketball, but with the strong transition game Dayton plays, her best quality has been the one she needs to control.
“It’s my speed,” Edwards said. “I have to learn to be quick but not to hurry. I have to learn to use my speed, when to turn it on and when to turn it off and how to be under control.”
Being under control is what it seems this “fearless” freshman never forgets. Whether it’s basketball or her experience tasting the limelight on ESPNU, it seems to be the mantra that Edwards carries at all times.
“It was a new experience,” Edwards said. “I was kind of nervous but I got through it.”