For Jesse Edwards (23), there is more than just basketball, it is the sport that attracted him to the United States as a teenager and will soon become his profession. In his spare time he still plays the piano, as he did in Amsterdam. He's a gamer, though not very die-hard, and loves going into nature with his girlfriend.
Edwards only watches the NBA, the best league in the world, when the playoffs start, as they do now. However, the NBA is his likely destination. After four years of playing college basketball at Syracuse, Edwards recently transferred to West Virginia University. There, the tall (2.11 metre) Amsterdam player will compete in the NBA next season, a year later than initially scheduled.
About the author
Koen van der Velden describes De Volkskrant About sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
He already sees on TV the players he has been on the field with in recent years. The rare young people who do this, around sixty years old. He follows them with special interest. “They've improved a little bit, but I know their level,” Edwards said. “If I keep growing for a while, I can definitely see myself among them after a while. I'm getting this idea more and more.”
When I was a kid, I watched videos about the NBA. What did you see that impressed you?
“It's a big show, but with the best athletes in the world. As I got older, I started to pay more attention to the tactics and the work behind them, but as a kid, I could completely lose myself in the magic of this show. For me it was “More like Disney.”
Imagine you make it to the NBA and soon you face someone like LeBron James, who you used to see in your videos. How do you deal with that, in your opinion?
“I have no idea, but here I often met people I only knew through TV in Holland. During my second year at Syracuse, (American football legend, Mr. Dr.) Tom Brady and famous TV host Jimmy Fallon entered the locker room after the game. They are truly world stars. And I keep thinking: I have never experienced this in the Netherlands. However, you soon notice that they are just people.
When did you first realize that you could make basketball your job?
It was too late. When I was 17, I went to VU and UvA open days with friends from my high school. I registered for medicine. The idea of playing professional basketball didn't bother me at all. This only happened in America. I saw my Syracuse teammates working to make it happen. “I didn’t start believing in him until my third year.”
You really wanted to become a doctor.
'Yes still. Of course I hope I can play basketball as long as possible. And then I don't want to do anything for a while and then go back to studying. That's the plan.'
For you, becoming a professional basketball player is a choice, but for many American boys, the sport offers hope for a better life. A way out of a certain environment. Do you notice a need for them more?
“Sure, that's how it works.” I've heard that many times here, as well as from my teammates. It's a bit of a cliche, but for some, basketball is an escape from a bad situation. For them, returning is not an option. Their families depend on them to make it happen, and they will bring in the money later. Fortunately for me that is different. I had a very normal childhood in the Netherlands, which is more prosperous than most neighborhoods here. There really is a difference.'
Do you see that also being reflected in the mentality on the field?
“Some of the boys play with a certain aggressiveness that you have to get used to when you just come from Holland.”
How does she express herself?
'a lot 'prattle. Some players talk constantly. Whatever you can think of. Perhaps this is not possible in the newspaper. Personally, I don't usually say anything unless you're talking to me all the time. Then you often hear from those same boys that it's nothing personal, that they're used to playing that way. Talking is part of it.
Can it motivate you too?
'Sometimes it can help. The public can also benefit from it. Before an away game in Pittsburgh, students looked up personal facts about our players, such as the identity of our friends. They shouted all kinds of things about it during the game, including my girlfriend. I was really hoping to win that match.
How did you play?
“Good, but unfortunately we lost.”
Everyone calls you a nice, friendly boy. Didn't you have to adapt your personality into this world?
“On the field I can play as hard and aggressive as I want, just like everyone else. Outside of that I can be myself. I think that's a good balance.”
I heard you had to be more aggressive on the field.
“This also had something to do with what we talked about earlier. When I heard stories about players who were having a hard time at home, I felt a kind of pity. That was in my early years. I had a feeling that I was depriving other people of their opportunity. I didn’t think I deserved it or anything.” Like that. It's not that I backed down, but sometimes I didn't play with full concentration. Later I realized: If I don't beat them today, they will lose to someone else tomorrow. You will only succeed if you are good enough.
Last Monday, Edwards signed his contract with West Virginia. In May, he will earn his degree in biotechnology in Syracuse, followed by a vacation in the Netherlands. He will move to his new university at the beginning of June. The basketball season begins in the fall.
What do you have to show to attract the attention of NBA clubs?
“The division I will be playing in is a little more physical than the previous division, so I still have to get a little stronger. I have gained 3 pounds recently and I still have 4 more. In the summer I will work on improving my shooting, because I want to hit a few three-pointers in Every game. Finally, defensively. At Syracuse we played zone defense, and at West Virginia we played man-to-man. Scouts find it important to see how I handle this.
In West Virginia you get an apartment on campus and are paid from sponsorship income. You've already earned your degree, so studying is no longer an option. Will this final season be an introduction to professional life?
“Yes, I will try as much as possible to live a professional lifestyle. As if it is my job.
How do you see your chances of making it to the NBA?
“If I say too often that it will happen, I think it won't happen. (Laughs) That's a weird superstition I have. The NBA has always been a dream, but I never felt like it could become a reality. The last few years have changed that. “I now have the attention of scouts, agents and managers. This gives me a lot of confidence. Everything can change every day, but now I know that I can do it. It has become a reality.”
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