Mark Edwards retired from coaching in 2018 after 46 total years, 37 of those as the head coach at NCAA Division III Washington University in St. Louis. He collected 685 career wins, 34-straight winning seasons from 1984-2018, 20 NCAA Tournament appearances, three Final Fours (2007-09) and two national championships (2008, 2009).
This is the fifth installment of our ongoing series chronicling my conversations with Mark Edwards, with a new topic each month. In our first talk, we discussed how the ongoing COVID-19 situation can and will affect recruiting, and in our second, we covered the differences between good, great and championship teams. In the third, we went over how basketball has changed through the years. Most recently, we covered the uncertainty surrounding the sport. This time, we went dove deep into the point guard position.
Mark Edwards Monthly: What Makes for a Successful Point Guard?
Justin Meyer: The point position was a crucial one in your program. What makes for a successful point guard?
Mark Edwards: One of the key points is how each coach defines a point guard, and then being able to find somebody who fits the profile. The point guard has to be in the situation where he has a chance for success. For instance, if you had a point guard who was a tremendous penetrator, but you ran an offense in which penetration wasn’t part of the offense, then that person wouldn’t stand out. What I’m saying is, a point guard needs to be in a program that is designed to capitalize on their strengths and let them do what they do best. That’s the number one underlying factor for what makes a good point guard.
I always considered myself to be a point guard coach. From the very beginning when I got into coaching, I felt that the point guard was one of the key elements to the success of a team. I really focused on having a very good point guard in our program.
One of the signs of a great point guard is adaptability. They learn as they go along. They’re not restricted by one skill set. A great point guard can be a great dribbler, but they also recognize the importance of the pass, playing defense, giving leadership, and all the other attributes people ascribe to the position.
Justin Meyer: What mental attributes are necessary for being a successful point guard?
Mark Edwards: I think they have to be selfless, and they have to have charismatic leadership ability. When they’re on the court with the basketball, people respect that they’re out there and what they’re doing. They have some predictability for their teammates. What happens in basketball if your point guard is unpredictable to their teammates is the teammates end up standing there, because they don’t know what to do or where to go. A successful point has to have a connection with their teammates so they’re all on the same page.
I think they have to have a great connection to the coach, regardless of the system. The coach and point guard have to be able to communicate, verbally and non-verbally, and they have to understand what it is the coach is trying to accomplish. The most successful teams we ever had were ones where the point guard had evolved to the point where I trusted him and let him make decisions that sometimes I would make.
Also, when I evaluate a point guard, one of the criteria I always look for is how do they make other people look good. I think that’s an underlying statement. A superstar is a superstar because somebody makes them look good. Obviously, they have to have the talent to be a superstar, but if they don’t get the basketball at the right time or the right place or in the right situation, they’re not going to be a superstar.
Justin Meyer: When evaluating a point guard, do you place more emphasis on their offensive or defensive ability?
Mark Edwards: Offensive, and for two reasons. First, because they’re the maestro directing the band, and that’s going to be so important. Second, I’ve had players who stand out on the defensive end of the floor for some certain reason – their quickness, their anticipation, their desire to play – but I have found that if a person wants to play good defense within a team, they will. Defense is one of those elements of basketball that’s internally driven and not just skill driven. I always felt that if a point guard is really good offensively and ran the team well, defense would follow.
Justin Meyer: If offense trumps defense, then what do you prefer your point excel at offensively? Would you rather they be a great shooter and scorer or an excellent distributor and commander of the offense?
Mark Edwards: I think they have to be able to score, but they don’t necessarily have to score in order for you to be a good team. If they don’t have the handles to drive and penetrate, if they can’t hit the open shot when it’s given to them, then those things become a liability. But where the point guard really has to excel is in judgment. Good point guards will have big scoring games when it’s needed. There are times where they have to step it up and be the one to hit the shot, and they do. They’re not afraid of it. But that’s not their sole reason for being on the floor.
Justin Meyer: How should a young point improve his or her game? What are some key skills and attributes you’d say they should work on to become the point guard you’re describing?
Mark Edwards: The number one thing is the mastery of the basketball. The basketball and the point guard have to become one, and the point guard has to be the one in charge of it. When they put the ball on the floor, the ball has to come back where they want it to. When they make a pass, the ball has to go where they want it to. The first step of becoming a point guard is being a master of the basketball.
What happens is you become more confident. If you’re comfortable with what you can do with the basketball, you become confident about what can happen with your skill set. You’re not afraid of taking a risk, which is the biggest hurdle any basketball player has to overcome at the beginning then they’re starting to grow. You can’t be afraid of taking a risk. You have to make the pass out of instinct, you have to see it, you have to do it. That comes from confidence, and that comes from mastering the basketball. To me, the number one attribute is mastering the ball, whether it’s a dribble, a pass, or a shot.
Justin Meyer: How important is the point position to you?
Mark Edwards: I think the point guard position is the most important position that I had to recruit. Now, notice how I worded that – I didn’t say it’s the most important position on the team. I think it’s important that I have somebody I can bring into a team who can make everybody else good. That’s why I say that. It’s important you have somebody who fits that mold.
There’s one other little thing that may not be observed by most people, but that is that a good point guard gets the most out of their own teammates. In other words, they play harder for him, because they know they’re going to get the ball.