Tyus Edney hones his basketball skills, as so many have before him, in Long Beach Poly High School’s old, boxy gym. A banner on one of its pale, nicked walls declares that the school is home to champions and scholars, and Edney fits easily into both categories.
The point guard for the defending CIF Southern Section 1-AA Jackrabbits, Edney also has a 3.3 grade-point average in a college-preparatory curriculum. He has signed to play at UCLA.
“He’s an excellent individual, a good person to work with,” Poly Coach Ron Palmer said. “He responds well to coaching. He listens.”
On the court, the 5-foot-10, 145-pound senior possesses a darting quickness that enables him to consistently penetrate the free-throw lane, where he befuddles opponents with no-look passes he wraps around his body. He averages about eight assists a game.
“It kind of just comes naturally from playing a long time,” Edney said of his passing, which he admits sometimes even fakes out his own players.
He used to be considered a mediocre outside shooter, but now has become a scorer of note. He had 31-point games on successive nights against Dorsey and Bellflower in the recent Artesia tournament.
In Palmer’s 12 previous seasons at Poly, no guard had ever scored that many points in a game. “I think Tony Gwynn (now a baseball star with the San Diego Padres) scored 27 in 1977,” Palmer said.
Palmer has had some good guards--including Clyde Johnson in 1976, Steve Griffin in ’77, Michael Beans in ’80, Leroy Washington in ’81, Chris Gwynn (now with the Dodgers) in ’82 and Morlon Wiley (now with the Orlando Magic of the NBA) in ’84.
“In terms of ballhandling, quickness and shooting ability, (Edney) might be a tad above those other guys,” the coach said.
The traditional role of Poly guards has been to get the ball to the big, talented low-post players the school has always produced. But the team lacks a big man this season, so Edney, who has become accurate from the three-point range, has been asked to shoot more.
“His scoring is significant for our success,” said Palmer, whose team was 13-3 before Wednesday night’s game against Lakewood.
Edney is averaging about 18 points a game, seven above his average as a junior.
“I think he’s the consummate point guard,” said Millikan Coach Bill Odell. “He’s just an exceptional talent. He’s physically gifted, but his mental capabilities and leadership are what make him so good.”
Edney has a quiet, pleasant manner that reflects the influence of his parents, Hank and Barbara Edney, who live in the Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach.
Hank Edney, 50, a former football player at Cal State Long Beach, started his son playing basketball when Tyus was 4 and the family lived in Compton. For years, Tyus and his brother, Russell, a Poly graduate now at UC Davis, were fixtures in the Victoria Park basketball leagues in Carson.
“He’s always surprised me,” the elder Edney said of Tyus. “He always played a little above my expectations. I taught him the basic fundamentals, and he always added a lot more to them.”
Erroll Parker, a Poly assistant coach, said: “Hank raised (the Edney boys) to be mannerable, good students and good people. It’s kind of rare these days to have fathers in the home doing that kind of thing, with all the distractions that kids who go to inner-city schools are subject to.”
Hank Edney’s goal had always been for his sons to win scholarships and get an education. “I’m really excited he will be at UCLA,” he said.
As Tyus walked through the Poly campus to the gym Monday afternoon after the last period, he looked younger than a senior. And his soft voice could barely be heard above other students shouting greetings to him.
“I’ll probably go into business after college,” he said. “When basketball is all over, my education will still be with me all the time.”
Arizona, Washington State, San Jose State and Colorado also wanted Edney, but he chose to play for UCLA during his recruiting visit to the Westwood campus. “It’s local, and I like the education system there and the way they treat their players,” he said.
If Edney, who was named the fourth-best senior prospect on the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s annual Best in the West team, has a weakness, it is his quietness. His coaches say he needs to overcome that if he is to succeed UCLA point guard Darrick Martin in two years.
“He has to be more vocal,” Palmer said. “He tends to be quiet, and he’s got to overcome that. He needs to start asserting himself now.”
Hank Edney said: “I always told him to do his talking on the court with the ball. He does need to talk louder.”
Edney takes this advice as expected, without raising his voice.
“The players usually know what’s going on,” he said. “If I see something, I’ll tell them about it. (A point guard) should yell to a certain extent, but not yell at (teammates) in a negative way.”