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. Then, we covered the uncertainty surrounding the sport. Last time, we went dove deep into the point guard position, and now we’re delving into post players.
Mark Edwards Monthly: What Makes for a Successful Post Player?
Justin Meyer: In our last conversation, you explained the crucial role the point guard always had in your program. How important do you consider post players to be?
Mark Edwards: I think they can be the tipping point of a team, both being able to recruit the right one and being able to realize them in your offense. If you have a very effective post player, it causes a lot of problems for the other team. Although they’re not in a position to handle the ball as much and they’re not in the position to have to make a lot of decisions, a skilled post player can impact how effective your offense is.
Justin Meyer: You mention that post players can influence how effective your offense is, but I didn’t hear you mention defense. Do you place more emphasis on a post player’s offensive ability over their defensive ability?
Mark Edwards: I think post defense is something that can be taught. I think offensive ability is something you’re looking for, like soft hands and agility with the feet. I think any person can play the defensive aspects of the game. If a player focuses and commits and are coached to be that way, then they will be that way. Offense is a bit different. It involved skill sets that have to be evolved and developed.
Justin Meyer: If given the choice, would you prefer your post player be an excellent scorer, an excellent rebounder, or an excellent rim protector?
Mark Edwards: The attribute I would most prefer is work ethic, but given those options, I would say scoring points would probably have the greatest impact, because the other team has to make the biggest adjustment, and they have to pull people off the three-point shooters to make that adjustment.
I think there’s a lot of rebounding you can teach, but it’s mostly reaction. Rebounding is a willingness to pursue the ball immediately. The best rebounds aren’t necessarily the biggest people. In fact, there’s a case to be made that the best rebounder is the most active player. So, rebounding is something I would evaluate. What does that player do when the shot goes up? Are they immediately moving, or do they just turn around and try to get the ball? That’s right up there with offense. I think offense carries, because it puts points on the board and impacts the rest of the team in a greater capacity, but rebounding is so important.
Justin Meyer: It doesn’t seem like size is inherently something you feel a successful post player must have. Do you think there’s a body type that’s best suited for the position?
Mark Edwards: Size can help, but it can also be a disadvantage if you don’t know how to use the size. The things I would always look for are: a willingness to play with the back to the basket, good footwork and an ability to reposition one’s self, and a willingness to work, because the post player at the college level is a developing body. Hardly any post player ever comes into a program a finished product. Quickness and other attributes you find on the perimeter have often times been defined by the time a kid gets to college. Post play has not. I learned that when I first started in coaching. Find a player with the right work ethic who’s got soft hands.
I’ve always felt that too many coaches don’t recognize that they’re going to be recruiting a project at the post position. Granted, sometimes there are players who are much further along than others, but I’ll guarantee you they’re going to have to develop. I remember back in the mid-70s, we recruited a player to Washington State named James Donaldson, who had no or very few scholarship opportunities. He was 7-foot-1 and had only played one year of basketball because he had foot problems.
He was the hardest working person I ever saw. When he came to Washington State, our plan was to redshirt him, but he improved so quickly and so fast. He played all four years. After graduation, he ended up All-Pac-8, played one year in Europe, continued to hone his skills, then came and played with the Seattle SuperSonics for a few years and finished out a 13-year NBA career. It was all based upon his willingness to evolve and develop and recognize that he wasn’t ready – he had to get himself ready. I think there are stories of the post position like that abound.
Justin Meyer: What are some misconceptions of what a post player is or should be?
Mark Edwards: The biggest misconception is that size determines ability to play the position. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you’ll be good in there. Like in Division III, when you play against a team with a 6-foot-11 player, a lot of people think that would be a disadvantage. But sometimes that’s an advantage if that post player isn’t as effective as they could be.
They feel the pressure. It gets very frustrating for them when some little guy comes in there and takes it away from them. Most post players don’t want to play against the smaller guy. They’d rather play against the bigger guy just for that reason. Smaller players can play around in areas where they’re not very agile down around their knees.
Justin Meyer: How have you noticed post players and the post position change through the years?
Mark Edwards: The skill sets required to play the position are much broader. It used to be if a guy could move his feet and score, he could be effective. But now there’s a lot more strength, endurance, finesse to some extent, range – all of those things have increased at the post position. If you can’t play with the speed on the perimeter and get up and down the floor, then you can’t be part of the system.
The strength factor in basketball has really grown in all areas. At one time, lifting weights was seen as a detriment to a player and only the big guys should, but nowadays everybody’s strong, and I think that’s an important element, too. Strength coaches in basketball today have made a tremendous difference, because they tone and strengthen a player to meet the demands of their position. People are focusing on how they can use their strength and what kind of strength they’re getting. It’s not just muscular upper bodies, it’s legs and everywhere else.
Justin Meyer: Other than a proper strength regiment, what are some drills you recommend a young post player focus on?
Mark Edwards: I think that has probably changed the least. In other words, the drills they did back in the day are still very effective. The old Mikan Drill still works, because what you’re doing is teaching a post player to play with the ball above their body and their feet below the body, and you’re combining those in repetition over and over and over again so they can be effective in both aspects at the same time. When you see a big player bring the ball down, it’s to re-establish their balance, so in order to keep it up all the time, they have to have balance. If they move their feet to maintain balance, then they lose their footwork, so they have to develop both of them at the same time, and that’s what the Mikan Drill does. It’s very mundane, but it really does help.
The other things are foot agility drills and quick reaction catching drills where the ball is coming and you have to react and catch it quickly. When they’ve for their arms out posting up, they have to be able to close and catch the ball quick when it comes. I used to have my big post players stand in the lane and look at the basket. It’s say to turn, they’d turn around, and I’d throw a ball right at that time in various areas. They had to react and catch it, then score. We’d try to develop that quick reaction there with the feet, the eyes, the hands, everything.
Justin Meyer: What do think will be the future of the position?
Mark Edwards: There will be some shifts, but nothing drastic will happen. You’re always going to have to have somebody who can play with their back to the basket facing the ball. You’re always going to have that position somewhere, somehow, unless you put all five people on the perimeter and just keep driving the ball all the time, but that’s not going to happen. So there’s always going to be a role for a post player. It may shift a little bit depending upon skill sets and what they can do, but it’ll always be there.