From High School Runt to the NBA?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we’ll see him on the pro courts soon.
Edmond Sumner’s enticing NBA prospects are a surprise to the coaches who overlooked him a few years ago. Back then, he was short, skinny and easy to push around. Today, even after a recent ACL injury sidelined him for the rest of the college season, possibly pushing him into the 2018 NBA draft class, the sophomore point guard for the Xavier University Musketeers in Cincinnati can carry his weight among the best in the nation. He’s known for not only his enviable size — at 6′6″, his height is a luxury even among professional point guards — but also how he can use it: His hops suggest he could win an NBA dunk contest someday.
“Coaches here thought that, over time, he’d project to be a pretty good player, but there wasn’t the foresight then that he’d turn into a potential NBA player,” says Luke Murray, an assistant coach at Xavier. They’ve focused on making him patient and splitting his game between scoring and passing. “He’s really taken to it,” Murray says. DraftExpress.com predicted Sumner would get picked 24th overall, one spot ahead of his Big East nemesis and leading candidate for player of the year, Villanova’s Josh Hart. After his ACL tear, the website pushed Sumner back to the same slot, but for the 2018 draft. Scouts have compared Sumner to 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. Sumner is what basketball people call a stat stuffer: He doesn’t lead his team in points every night but offers a bit of everything. In his breakout game last February against eventual national champion Villanova, Sumner led his then-fifth-ranked team with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
Oh — and don’t forget the roller skates.
Sumner, 21, chalks up his famously graceful dashes to the rim to his hobby growing up in Detroit, where roller-skating was the thing to do among African-American kids. In sixth grade, he recalls, he and buddies visited Northland Roller Rink on 8 Mile Road every weekend. The rink was always packed; he learned to dodge on wheels — so snaking his way through a packed court of lanky men is nothing.
As he grew older, he continued skating even after he transferred from the struggling Detroit Public Schools — the high school 10 blocks from his house was managed by the statewide system for failing schools — to Detroit Country Day School, one of the city’s ritziest schools. Life at the rink was a refuge away from the Porsche- and Macbook-speckled grounds on which he spent his days. Skating was at first about speed — but it’s also about swagger. “I got one signature move,” Sumner tells OZY. “They call it ‘The Pontiac’ in Detroit, just like the car. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.” He had to get new wheels to do the serpentine-like move. On the rink it looks like he’s dancing: He skates forward, spins around, then weaves his skates back and forth. Even today, after a bad practice or a game, Sumner heads to the rink, just a mile from campus, to clear his mind. The Pontiac is a bit rusty these days, but Sumner still busts it out when he drags teammates to the rink.
Growing up, Sumner would never have imagined that his height would woo so many NBA scouts. Until eighth grade, he was the shortest kid in his class. Every day, he tracked his height outside his parents’ bedroom. In high school, elite colleges overlooked him throughout the recruiting process; he often heard he didn’t have the “body type” for high-level competition. He was 5′9″ in tenth grade — shorter than average for a regular guy, and bad news for a basketball aspirant. Only two schools came after him: Xavier, a well-regarded Big East school and NCAA tournament stalwart, and the University of Massachusetts, a program that had made the NCAA tournament only three times since Sumner was born.
Things changed slowly — and then all at once. By his junior year, he was 6′1″. When he committed to Xavier, he was 6′2″ but built like a string bean at just 148 pounds. Still, he was growing — and often had to skip practices from growing pains, something that tends to affect children only until age 12. After redshirting his freshman year, Sumner was 6′6″ at 19 years old, up nine inches since age 15.
Yet Sumner took so long to become his physical self that he hasn’t mastered his skills or body yet. “He’s just a wild athlete in terms of explosiveness vertically and lateral quickness with that first step,” says Sam Vecenie, NBA draft analyst for Sporting News. “His shot isn’t really that great. That’s the next step to his development, to become a better jump shooter.” That’s within reach; San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard was a below-average shooter in college but is now one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA.
But for now, the combination of Sumner’s size and the craftiness he learned from his smaller days make him a potent basketball threat. “He naturally moves at a pace that’s quicker than his defender,” says Luke Murray, an assistant coach at Xavier. “He can transition from 50 miles per hour to 100 miles per hour. That’s what makes it so difficult for people to keep him in front of them.” Mark Bray, Sumner’s high school coach, echoes this sentiment. “He looks like you could break him in half, but he gets to the paint with such reckless abandon,” he says. “He’s so skinny he just slices through — you can’t get in front of him.”