BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
The "Greenfield Gunner," Mike Edwards, a standout basketball player for the University of Tennessee from 1971-1973, was guest speaker Tuesday for the Boys & Girls Club's annual One Campaign Luncheon.
One of the state of Indiana's most prolific high school scorers, Edwards played under legendary Coach Ray Mears at Tennessee where he was a two-time all-SEC player, Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference in 1972, and an honorable mention All-American in 1972.
Voted by University of Tennessee fans as a member of the "All-Century Team," which includes the likes of Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld, Dale Ellis, Allan Houston and Chris Lofton, Edwards was well-received by a large crowd of Boys & Girls Club supporters who attended the luncheon held at Trinity United Methodist Church's Fellowship Hall.
In an interview prior to the luncheon, Edwards spoke fondly of his love for the University of Tennessee and the current coach, Bruce Pearl. He sees some similarities between Pearl and Ray Mears.
"His organization, and his showmanship stands out (just like Coach Mears)," Edwards said. "The defenses are a lot different. Pearl plays a lot of man-to-man and pressure defense. Mears never played man-to-man, always 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 zone. And we seldom ever pressed."
Edwards said he expected Volunteer fans can look forward to a lot more good teams on "The Hill."
"I was disappointed they didn't make it to the 'Final Four' because they would have played Butler, and that was my dad's school, and the 'Final Four' was in Indiana, which would been really special for me," he said.
Nicknamed the "Greenfield Gunner" in high school after leading the state of Indiana in scoring his senior year at 36.4 points per game, Edwards said the 3-point line, which hadn't come into use as yet during his playing days, "would have been interesting."
"It changed the game," he said. "I thought it wasn't far enough back when they put it in. The old ABA (American Basketball Association) initially put it in to be used for sort of a 'home run' affect. But then they moved the line closer. It makes the game more exciting. A 10-point lead doesn't mean much now that there's a 3-point line."
Shooting from long distance was Edwards' forte. In fact, Coach Mears prodded Edwards to shoot from as far out as he could because it opened things up for the inside players, such as big Len Kosmalski, who played alongside Edwards.
"He would gradually move me farther and farther back," Edwards recalls of Coach Mears. "His deal was that if you get one there, it will ignite everybody. He wanted me to work until I could make a half-court shot during a regular game situation, but we never got that far, because Mears was the type of guy that unless you could prove you could do it (in practice), you'd best not even try (in a game)."
Mears recruited Edwards to Tennessee even though he had never watched him play a high school game. Mears went to a coaching clinic at Ball State and had Edwards come out and take some shots from the perimeter.
"He offered me a scholarship based on what he saw at that clinic," Edwards laughed, adding, "it's a good thing he never saw me play defense, or he would probably have taken it (the scholarship) back."
Edwards has coached at Farragut High School and William Blount High School, coached collegiately at Emory & Henry College and also served as an assistant coach at Maryville College and Carson-Newman. He currently lives in Maryville and is a teacher at William Blount High School.
He told the gathering of supporters that he grew up in the Boys Club at his home in Greenfield, spending more time there than he did at his home. He said his parents never had to worry about him not being safe because they knew where he was.
The author of two books, Edwards had the books available Tuesday and proceeds from the sale of the books were given to the local Boys & Girls Club.
The event was part of the Boys & Girls Club's One Campaign that raises funds for after-school programs and other services for the youth. The campaign seeks donations primarily from individuals.
Doug DeBusk and Ted Bryant serve as the campaign's co-chairmen. Carla Bewley, Boys & Girls Club Board President, gave the welcome, with Pastor Rick Ohsiek of Reformation Lutheran Church providing the prayer. Steve Mears, Boys & Girls Club Board member and son of Coach Ray Mears, introduced Edwards to the group.
The co-chairmen of the event, along with Scott Bullington, Boys & Girls Club Executive Director, presented Edwards with a limited edition print of Coach Bruce Pearl, which was donated by Josh Swatzell of Oak Tree Gallery.