MANILA, Philippines (AP) — There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and it is a line that Anthony Edwards does not seem to cross. Ask him if he thinks USA Basketball is going to win its next game, and he’ll say yes. Ask him if he thinks he could set a USA Basketball scoring record, and he’ll say yes to that, too.
He talks a lot. He also backs up the talk.
Edwards is the top scorer for the U.S. so far in the Basketball World Cup at 16.5 points per game, the clear go-to guy on a roster stacked with some of the NBA’s top rising talent. At 22, the Minnesota guard is the second-youngest player on the youngest team in the tournament -- yet is playing like he’s been on the world stage many times before, the leader of a squad that is assured of a berth in a quarterfinal game on Tuesday.
“He just wants to hoop, have fun and win,” U.S. guard Austin Reaves said. “I think that’s all that matters.”
It’s hard to argue with that sentiment.
The first big test of the World Cup awaited the Americans on Friday, and Edwards made sure they passed. He went scoreless in the first half; the U.S. trailed Montenegro 38-37 at the break. He knocked down his first jumper after halftime and went on to score 17 points the rest of the way; the Americans outscored their underdog opponents 48-35 after halftime and went on to win 85-73, remaining unbeaten and ensuring they made the knockout stage.
“He’s a guy who we count on to generate offense and he had a tough first half but hit that first shot of the third quarter,” said U.S. coach Steve Kerr, whose team finishes the second round Sunday against Lithuania and then has the quarterfinal game, opponent TBA, on Tuesday. “He’s one of those guys who stays confident regardless of what’s happening for him and for the team. You always know he’s going to keep attacking, stay aggressive.”
Edwards was also unflappable: “I knew we were going to win from the get-go,” he said.
There’s that confidence again. He’s exhibited it a few times in this World Cup, not letting any on-court challenge or off-court question get in his way.
He was asked about pressure at the World Cup: “Pressure? No, not at all,” Edwards said. “I love the game of basketball. It’s fun for me, man. I go out there and do what I love. I put in the work every day, so it’s no pressure — at all.”
He was asked about the U.S. chances in upcoming games: “I mean,” he said, pausing briefly for the slightest giggle, “I think we’re going to win.”
He was asked about his chances of breaking Kevin Durant’s World Cup team scoring record of 38 points in a game: “He’s probably one of the greatest players so that’s going to be tough,” Edwards said. “But, I mean, I’m going to try. Yeah, for sure, I’m going to try.”
And he’s even taken on a fan who tends to shout when players have taken free throws in Manila. Edwards swished one in a group-stage game against Greece, then looked in the fan’s direction and gave out a yelp of his own.
Edwards — who signed a max extension with Minnesota earlier this summer, a deal that’ll easily exceed $200 million over five seasons and cemented his family’s financial future — says and does all those things with a smile, one that’s been on his face for much of the last month since the team assembled in Las Vegas for training camp. On this team, he’s The Guy. (“Unquestionably,” Kerr said.) But it’s a title that Edwards does not want, nor embrace.
“It’s a team sport,” Edwards said. “If I wanted to punch my chest and do that, I’d go play golf or tennis or swimming like Michael Phelps. I’d go do something that’s an individual sport. But it takes five guys to win a basketball game.”
Counting the five-game series of exhibitions on the way to Manila, Edwards has been the leading U.S. scorer or rebounder in eight of the team’s nine games this summer.
His big scoring effort so far: 34 points, as the U.S. rallied from a 16-point deficit in an exhibition against Germany. Edwards capped the win with a ridiculous shot from the baseline with 59 seconds left in that one, and Reaves is still marveling over what he’s seeing.
“It’s lovely,” Reaves said. “I told him after the double-pump baseline post-fade that he made, I told him that might be one of the best buckets I’ve seen in person. Just the degree of difficulty. I’ll say it loud and clear: I’m not making that shot. There’s only a couple people in the league that can make that shot.”
USA Basketball issued Edwards jersey No. 10 for this summer. That’s the one that Kobe Bryant wore for the national team, and that doesn’t seem like a coincidence. Bryant was a leader. The Americans have asked Edwards to be the same. And if all goes to plan, Edwards will be part of USA Basketball’s gold-medal chases for years to come.
“We have some amazing basketball players on this team,” U.S. assistant coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is the future of the NBA. These are future stars. The list can go on and on, but Anthony Edwards is going to be a household name. He already is.”