Family coaching background provided the passion that Edwards uses to help Clark County hoopsters
VANCOUVER — The philosophy has been attributed to everyone from President Theodore Roosevelt to author John C. Maxwell, but Greg Edwards remembers hearing those words come out of the mouths of basketball coaching legends like John Wooden and Jerry Tarkanian.
“Kids never care how much you know until they know how much you care,’’ Edwards said. “I go by that philosophy.’’
Coaching basketball is something Edwards cares very much about. It’s in his blood. It’s in his DNA. As long as he can remember, he was surrounded by successful coaches.
- His father Ken Edwards coached at the Division I collegiate level for 25 years, including a six-year stint (1972-78) at Portland State where he guided Freeman Williams to back-to-back national scoring titles in 1977 and 1978.
- His uncle Rolland Todd coached at the college level for 35 years and was also the first head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers in the National Basketball Association.
- His mother, Judy Rusaw, is now 74 years old and has 43 years of coaching experience in swimming at the high school level. She is currently still coaching at Beaverton High School in Oregon.
“I was lucky to be around a lot of coaches,’’ said the 48-year-old Edwards. “Coaches like Jerry Tarkanian and Nolan Richardson.’’
Edwards, a Vancouver resident, is the program director of Cagers Basketball, a youth program located in Salmon Creek for players in grades 3-12. He founded the program in 2012 after a successful playing and coaching career of his own.
After growing up around the game as a youth, Edwards was an all-Metro League point guard at Hillsboro High School. He went on to play collegiately at Palomar Junior College in San Diego, Calif., and then at Chico State University in Chico, Calif.
After his playing career came to an end, Edwards began coaching at the youth level before becoming the coach at South Medford (Ore.) High School, where he coached from 1992-97. Before he got to South Medford, the Panthers had never advanced to the state basketball tournament. In his third season at the school, he guided the team to 26 straight wins to start the season before losing in the state semifinals.
Edwards went on to coach at his alma mater, Hillsboro High School, from 2000-2009. In the four seasons prior to his return to Hillsboro, the Spartans won a combined 16 games (78 losses). He quickly turned the program around, coaching the Spartans to a second-place finish at state in 2004 and a fourth in state finish in 2009.
Edwards then served as a varsity assistant coach at Skyview High School before opening Cagers Basketball. Altogether, Edwards has been a varsity coach at the high school level for 15 years and his teams have made 14 state tournament appearances in that time. He is the all-time winningest coach at Hillsboro and has an overall record of 220-95 at the high school level.
But, Edwards didn’t start Cagers Basketball to help young players win state championships, or become the next Michael Jordan or Lebron James. He knows first hand that the vast majority of youth basketball players don’t even get to play at the high school level, yet alone beyond high school.
“Only 10 percent of the kids who play at the 8th grade level go on to play high school basketball,’’ Edwards said. “My program is grounded in the fundamentals of the game. It’s not grounded in winning tournaments. I want those kids to have a better chance to go on and play.’’
Edwards said in the first year he coached at Skyview, there were 65 freshmen turn out and only 12 got to play basketball that year.
“We had to cut 53 kids,’’ Edwards said. “That’s why I started this program. It’s a program for kids who have a love for the game and the desire to continue to work to become the best that they can be in the game. Teaching proper fundamental technique in regard to each skill, whether offensive or defensive, and helping each player to understand the tremendous benefit and importance in being grounded first in fundamentals of the game is a primary goal.
“A second primary goal is to help each individual player develop a sense of commitment, work ethic and to gain an understanding of just how much time and effort one must put in to become the best that they can be in the game,’’ Edwards said. “A player’s goal should not be to become the next Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James. It should be to become the best individual and team player that you can become, within the limits of your physical abilities.’’
Largely because of the fact that his gym is located in Salmon Creek, Edwards’ program has served as a huge benefit to the basketball programs at Skyview and Columbia River high schools.
“He has done wonders for our basketball program,’’ said Columbia River coach David Long. “A huge percentage of my kids are funneled through him. He’s great for Skyview and River. The intent of his program to begin with was never about developing a select premier team that travels all across the county. It’s about developing kids better for high school basketball.’’
Long said players who come to Columbia River from Edwards’ Cagers Basketball program are significantly more prepared than others.
“There’s been years when out of the 12 freshmen we’ve kept, eight or 10 of them played for Greg,’’ Long said. “We’ve had those types of years when 80 percent of our freshmen squad played for him. I don’t have to run a youth program because we’ve already got one.
“Greg’s players tend to be a little more coachable because they’ve actually had coaching,’’ said Long, whose son Spencer played for Edwards for three years. “Most kids growing up are being coached by somebody’s dad. Greg was a high school coach so his style is very similar to a high school coach so his kids are already used to that.’’
Edwards offers individual and team instruction as well as tournament play. But, make no mistake, the focus is on teaching the game of basketball to his players.
“I believe you teach in practice each day and you ‘coach’ in games,’’ Edwards said. “If you do a great job teaching, your players and teams will play as close to their potential as is physically possible under game conditions.’’
“He’s not taking teams to Vegas; he’s not taking teams to LA,’’ Long said. “There’s all kinds of programs out there taking people’s money and making promises. His deal is simply to prepare kids for high school basketball.’’
Edwards does his best not to let finances keep any young player from participating in his program. He says 15 percent of his players play for free every year.
“If you don’t have money, you can still play for him,’’ Long said. “He scholarships kids out of his own pocket every year. It’s not about him getting rich. He will never be rich running this program.’’
Edwards doesn’t know what the future holds for him but he has a strong desire to see Cagers Basketball continue to serve the Clark County community.
“I’m 48 years old and I may go on and coach in high school; there’s a lot of things I want to do,’’ he said. “But, this is an important part of what I wanted to do in coaching. Hopefully, if I leave, I will find someone to continue to run this program.’’
For more information about Cagers Basketball, including registration information, go to http://www.cagersbasketball.net/ .