Like many little girls who grow up in Connecticut loving basketball, Sadie Edwards’ ultimate dream carried her to a place where college championships have been won since 1995.
“I have wanted to play for UConn, and I think it goes back to when I was six. I’ve always watched them and imagined myself there,” Edwards said Wednesday. “Then as I got older, it began to become clear how actually difficult it would be to do so. Sometimes I wondered if I’d ever get there.
“As a player, you understand there is an elite level – and UConn-caliber elite. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me. But even as I began to think about just going to [any] high-level program, I knew that I’d likely spend the rest my career wondering what it might have been like had I not accepted the opportunity.”
For Edwards, 16, who played her freshman season at Mercy-Middletown, that opportunity developed in the blink of an eye.
One month ago, Edwards noticed a reaction in the crowd watching her Blair Academy (N.J.) play.
“When Coach [Geno] Auriemma walked into the gym, it was clear he was there,” Edwards said. “You could tell by the way the crowd reacted; heads were turning and you’re thinking, ‘well, Ok.’”
Then on Monday, the night UConn discovered it would open pursuit of an eighth national title on Saturday against Idaho in the Bridgeport Regional, Edwards got what she’d always wanted.
Auriemma offered her a scholarship.
“And when the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to think about it out of consideration for my family,” said Edwards, who took the good news home with her.
“I knew I wanted to go. But it’s a major commitment, a challenge, which is what I want to have every day. But really, UConn was a no-brainer for me.
“It’s the perfect fit, an opportunity to win. And they put you in the position to be successful in life.”
Edwards, a 5-10 guard from Meriden, transferred to Brooklyn’s Nazareth High after her freshman year to play for Apache Paschall, one of the sport’s most famous high school and AAU coaches.
Paschall, who also coached Bria Hartley in AAU, died suddenly in January 2012.
She eventually transfered to Blair Academy where she played this season. Blair beat Lawrenceville in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League tournament finals, 70-53, for its third Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship. Edwards led all scorers in the game with 20 points.
Blair coach Quint Clarke says UConn is getting an extraordinary player and person in Edwards.
“She is extremely smart and not only about basketball. She can be much more than a basketball player if she aspires to do so,” Clarke said. “But she studies the game. She loves talking about basketball. He knows about the teams we’ve played, the strategy we’ve developed and how to get herself into positions to improve herself at a very high level for a 16-year-old.
“She’s a very out-going, personable young woman. combined with being a great athlete. She’s been able to put it all together and that’s fairly apparent because of UConn’s interest in her. She will be a tremendous player for them and likely will be a coach someday.”
At one point, she was ranked as high as No. 17 nationally and fourth at her position. Edwards, whose nickname was “The Michelle Obama of Nazareth” will join Nykesha Sales (Bloomfield), Maria Conlon (Seymour) and Heather Buck (Stonington) among UConn’s prominent homegrown player.
“In terms of growing up in Connecticut [Meriden] and playing for UConn, well, she will be as well-prepared as she can for it. I don’t think there is any way you can prepare yourself to play at there,” Clarke said.
“People are already telling her that it’s more challenging than she even expects it will be. And she has a handle on it, having grown up in Connecticut. But she is a hard-working kid who really wants to improve and this will re-double those efforts. She wanted to get to UConn; it’s been the goal for much of her life. And now that she is there she is committed to working even harder.
“She knows the coaching staff can be tough on freshmen. She knows how demanding they are, how difficult it will be to earn playing time. But until you are in the environment, you really can’t understand what it is like.
“She is a natural leader. She wants to bring people together. She is all about the team. As she progresses through the program, her inclination will be to lead her teammates. She will do whatever she can to earn the respect of her coaches and teammates.
She is a big guard [5-10] who always played wing. She’ very strong. We may move her to the point this year. She is a great ball-handler with a natural feel for the game. She almost unguardable one-on-one. It’s not so much her first step as her innate ability to react to what her defender is doing. She can penetrate and is a gifted passer, a player who loves to pass.”
Edwards joins guard Courtney Ekmark of Phoenix in Class of 2014.
The Huskies are also recruiting a number of other players for 2014, the most significant 6-5 center A’ja Wilson of South Carolina. Wilson is apparently deciding between UConn and South Carolina.