In advance of the Kings-Suns matchup on Flashback Friday, former Kings guard Tyus Edney dishes on getting drafted by Sacramento, his basketball career and much more.
After leading the UCLA Bruins to the 1995 NCAA Championship – hitting an unforgettable, coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup against Missouri in the Tournament’s second round – Tyus Edney was selected 47th overall by the Kings in the NBA Draft.
The second-round pick made an immediate impact, notching a team-leading 6.1 assists to go along with 10.8 points and 1.1 steals per game, while shooting 36.8 percent from three-point range. Edney – who joined Kenny Smith as the second rookie in the Sacramento era to average over 10 points and six assists per contest – was selected to the Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend and All-Rookie Second Team.
In addition to later suiting up for the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, the 5-foot-10 guard thrived internationally, winning nine titles – including the Euroleague Championship and Italian Supercup – and four MVP awards overseas, before retiring in 2010.
In an exclusive interview with Kings.com, Edney – who’s currently in his third season as Director of Men’s Basketball Operations at his alma mater – reflects on his outstanding career and more.
Who were your idols growing up and after which players did you pattern your game?
I would just try to take stuff from different guys who were good players at the time. Two point guards I always liked to watch were Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson. Isiah is one reason I wore No. 11. I also grew up as a Lakers fan, so I liked Magic and the way he played.
Take me back to the 1995 NCAA Tournament and your unforgettable game-winner against Missouri. What do you remember most about that game and remarkable finish?
I remember we were expected to win and we thought we were going to win, but it was a tough, back-and-forth, hard-fought game. It seemed like they never went away because they had a very good team that year. On our last defensive play, they had to score, and they made a good pass to a guy who made the lay-up. We called timeout and had very little time to win. The year before, we lost in the first round, so it was almost like we couldn’t believe we were in the same situation again.
We were in the huddle, and Coach (Jim Harrick) basically said to get me the ball, so I knew I had to make something happen and it was on my shoulders. He probably knew I had the best chance of getting us a good shot in a difficult situation. After that, it was all history.
How would you characterize your emotions when the Kings drafted you?
I was at my house watching the Draft with my family. It was actually a stressful day for me because I didn’t know where I was going to go. Everybody usually thinks they’re going to go higher than they do – you hear a bunch of different things leading up to it. I was hoping to go in the first round, but I had to wait until No. 47. I was very stressed out by then, but I was happy to be able to go to the Kings.
I hadn’t worked out (for Sacramento) and I didn’t have any idea they’d take me. It was both a relief and a surprise. I remember immediately getting a call from them, and hearing how they were really excited to get me. I felt so good after hearing they had some plans for me to have a chance to be an influential part of the team.
You were selected in the second round, but made an immediate impact as a rookie, starting 60 games. What were the keys to your success?
I think just being confident and knowing I could do well on that level. Also, getting to know my teammates, especially the veteran guys – they all took me in and helped me out, and it was a positive experience.
You were renowned for your speed and playmaking. What was your mindset when you stepped on the court?
I was always an up-tempo guard. That’s how I played in college and that’s how we played my first season in Sacramento. It fit my style well. I’d always want to come in and provide energy, push the ball, get our scorers the ball and try to make plays to help the team win.
What was your typical pregame routine as a player?
I usually would eat the same thing before the game and try to get to the arena at the same time. (I’d try to) do similar things before every game – go out early and get some shots up –nothing really quirky.
Who were some of your favorite opponents to face during your NBA career?
There were so many guys I remember being excited to play against – ones I’d watched over the years. I remember playing the Bulls after Michael (Jordan) came back, which was exciting for me. I think playing those legendary teams I watched when I was in college was great – Utah was good with (John) Stockton, for one.
The Kings wore the half-black, half-purple, checkered alternative uniforms during your tenure. What are your thoughts on that jersey?
(Laughs) I actually still have those! I thought it was a fun jersey and different at the time. I thought it was a cool uniform.
You had a chance to play basketball overseas following your NBA career. What do you think fans would find most interesting about that experience?
I had a great experience – that’s kind of why I played over there so long. I had a really great career over there, won a lot of championships and experienced a lot of different things in different countries.
I really enjoyed playing in that kind of competitive environment. I think people don’t realize how many great players there are over there and how tough it is to play. It’s almost like college, where every game means something and you can’t afford to go on a losing streak because you can be completely out of it. The importance of every game is (more significant) over there.
My first year was 1999 in Lithuania, which had one of the better teams. One my old teammates, George Zidek, went to play with me, and we won the Euroleague, which is like winning the NBA Championship.
It was definitely different though – (I experienced) a little bit of culture shock when I arrived. It was also the coldest environment I’d ever been in. After being there for a while though, it ended up working out. The people were great, we had a good team and we became huge celebrities over there. I couldn’t walk around without a crowd coming around me – it was neat and it was interesting. Over here, we had a little bit (of fanfare) after we won the (NCAA) Championship, but not to the point where you can’t really go anywhere.
Italy is my favorite country and that’s where I spent the most time. I think there, it’s more of a laid-back culture – they take time to spend quality time together as opposed being on the hustle-and-bustle all the time. I learned the language and really enjoyed playing over there. It was actually hard for me to get back into the American rhythm (after coming back).
How often do you lace up your sneakers nowadays to play?
It’s funny, because I played this morning with my former (Bruins) teammate, Mitch Butler. They play in the mornings a couple of times a week. He was going, so I said I’d come and play. I rarely play though – maybe once or twice a month.
How would you summarize the transition from player to coach?
So far, it’s been good. In my position as a point guard, I noticed, as I was getting older, I was teaching young guys and trying to help them get better. I think it was a natural transition for a player in my position to continue to try to help young players get better. I’ve been enjoying it and I feel lucky to be back at UCLA, around the program I love and basically grew up playing in, and being back around the school and around the fans. So, I’m enjoying it.
When you look at the NBA today, do any players remind you of yourself?
I like how guys like (Steve) Nash and Chris Paul play – they’re similar to me because they’re a little bit smaller, but do a lot of good things on the floor with their quickness and ability to create and make plays for guys, as well as score the ball. I see some similarities in some of the things they do that I felt like I was able to do on the floor.
Do you happen to see any similarities when you watch Kings guard Isaiah Thomas?
Definitely. He played for my former coach, Lorenzo (Romar), so I definitely see some things he does that I know he probably learned from Coach. We played against him when he was in school, so I watched him first-hand and (saw him make) things happen. Some of the things he was doing out there were definitely similar to some of the things I used to do, too, as far as being a smaller guard and being able to get shots off over bigger guys and jumping into plays.
When you have time away from the game, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I spend time with my kids and family. I play golf and tennis, if anything else – those are probably the main activities.
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