There was a time when Aaren Edmead deferred to his teammates in crunch time. He was your typical solid high school point guard, a distributor and defender, quick with the ball, quick on his feet, slow to take a perimeter shot.
"From freshman through junior year, it was really rough," the 6-foot Deer Park senior said.
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Then Edmead began working on his jump shot with his father, John, a former basketball player at Dowling.
"I'm in the gym every day with my father. I get out of school early and work with him before practice," Edmead said. "A big part of my game is my father. He's been working me out since I was young. He just keeps feeding me the ball. Now I've improved to the point that I'm confident in every shot that I take."
With the added dimension of three-point range to go with his overall court savvy and leadership, Edmead's "A'' game is now an "AA'' game, and Aaren is poised to step up in class.
In November, Edmead became the first Deer Park boys basketball player to earn a Division I scholarship since Bob McCurdy (Class of 1970), who earned a full ride to Virginia, transferred after one year to Richmond and led the nation in scoring in the 1974-75 season. Edmead signed with Wagner College, the preseason No. 1 pick in the Northeast Conference.
"He's a very skilled, high-IQ, high-character basketball player," said Wagner assistant Mike Babul, who sat behind the Deer Park bench on Tuesday to watch Edmead score 21 points in a 64-53 victory over East Islip. "Very coachable. Has the ability to make other guys on the floor better. Great passer, great vision and has the ability to make open shots."
With the Falcons' top two scorers gone from the team that lost to Northport in last season's Suffolk AA final, Edmead must put the point in point guard, a challenge he's eager to accept.
"Even though I'm signed, I still want to stay focused and stay hungry," Edmead said. "I want to take it all the way to Glens Falls."
So Deer Park coach John McCaffrey will employ a simple strategy: Put the ball in Edmead's hands and leave it there.
"He'll have to carry a scoring load more, and he'll do it," McCaffrey said. "Sometimes he'll have to shut down the other team's point guard; some nights he'll have to score. Whenever a play needs to be made, he makes it. He's a terrific defender, he distributes when he needs to and he makes big shots. Last year he was our third-leading scorer, but down the stretch, he was by far our best player."
That endeared him to Wagner, which first noticed Edmead at an impromptu scrimmage at the Staten Island school this past summer, when Edmead more than held his own against the Wagner varsity players. "I showed them what I could do,'' he said, "and after that, they kept an eye on me the rest of the summer."
Clearly, Wagner liked what it saw on the AAU circuit. "We watched him a lot in the summer," Babul said. "He had a lot of big games. He was always the type of guy that when the game was on the line, he wanted the ball in his hands."
That's the case now, too.
Even though East Islip's zone denied Edmead open looks in the second half of Tuesday's game, the fearless Falcon found other teammates, including a couple of dazzling no-look passes in the fourth quarter for layups. "I know I can score," Edmead said, "but getting my teammates involved makes it easier on me and it's something I'm really good at."
But now crunch time is Edmead's time.
"I tell our big men at the end of the game, if they get a rebound, only look for me," said Edmead, who like most of the Falcons wears hot pink sneakers with gray trim. "I'm always aggressive. You can't back down from anybody."