By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — They were teammates in AAU basketball and at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., and if Whitny Edwards was in the game, odds were Britny, her fraternal twin, was out there with her.
“We have a real connection on the court,” Whitny said.
As a UVa freshman, however, Britny found herself cast in an unfamiliar role. When Whitny, a 5-11 guard, was in the game last season, Britny, a 6-1 forward, often was on the bench. And that continued to be the case through the first two months of this season.
“I’ve coached twins before,” Debbie Ryan said, “Heather and Heidi [Burge] were essentially the same way their first and second year. When one was playing, the other wasn’t. Sometimes it happens that way.”
And sometimes a reserve earns more playing time as a season unfolds. That’s been the story with Britny, who played about 6 minutes a game as a freshman. Her average is up to 9.5 minutes this season.
“She’s definitely made some strides in practice,” Ryan said. “What we’ve been waiting for is her aggression level to step forward, and that’s really started to happen.
“I’ve noticed that Britny has really embraced what we’re looking for now. It’s just taken awhile.”
In a 57-55 win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 24, Britny played 25 minutes, scored 8 points and pulled down 6 rebounds, all career highs.
“I got an opportunity to play, which I haven’t in the past,” Britny said. “It was a great experience. I was happy to do more for my team.”
She followed that with 6 points in a victory over N.C. State. Tuesday night, Britny contributed 12 points (on 6-for-8 shooting) and 6 boards in a rout of Longwood at John Paul Jones Arena.
Among those following her ascent has been her father, former NBA player Blue Edwards, who coached his twin daughters in AAU ball.
“For me as a parent, it’s been rather refreshing seeing her get out and play,” Edwards said. “I know what she’s capable of doing, I know what her skill set is, so as I see her play now, those are things I’ve seen her do before.
“I know she’s been frustrated, but she didn’t let that get the best of her.”
Britny faces challenges that most other players don’t. She has hearing loss in each ear. Off the court, she wears hearing aids, and she’s adept at reading lips.
She used to wear the hearing aids when she played, too, but decided before this season to go without them on the court.
“I think by not wearing my hearing aids, I’m more aware of what’s going on,” Britny said. “It was strange at first, but I got used to it.”
Ryan said she does some things differently to ensure her messages reach Britny, “but not a tremendous amount. I think Britny likes to be able to adapt and adjust. That’s one great thing about her having a twin sister here. Whitny has taught our team how to communicate with Britny when things are really loud in the arena.”
Sometimes that involves a tap on Britny’s back from a teammate, a sign to switch on a screen. Ryan and her staff also will signal in plays or defensive changes when Britny is in the game.
“I really like the idea that she’s learned to adapt and find her own way in this,” Ryan said.
Her father would prefer that Britny wear her hearing aids when she plays, but “with or without them, I don’t think she’s at that much of a disadvantage out on the court,” Blue Edwards said.
“At this stage, I trust her judgment. She went without them in practice for awhile and said there wasn’t that much of a difference.”
The Edwards sisters were part of a recruiting class that also included guard Ariana Moorer and forward Chelsea Shine. Of the four, only Britny did not play a significant role in 2008-09. Moore averaged 20.6 minutes per game, Shine 16.6 and Whitny 14.5.
Was Blue Edwards surprised Britny didn’t play more as a freshman?
“Not at all,” he said. “I knew coming to Virginia and the ACC, Britny would not get a lot of time right away, especially at [power forward].”
Like Britny, who averages 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds, Whitny has raised her production this season. For the ACC’s third-place team, she’s the third-leading scorer (7.3 ppg) and plays about 26 minutes a game.
UVa (8-3, 20-6) hosts second-place Florida State (9-2, 23-4) Monday night at JPJ.
Whitny has started 10 games this season. Britny is still seeking her first start as a Cavalier. That doesn’t diminish her value to the program.
“She’s a really good teammate, and she just does what the team needs,” Ryan said.
In recent weeks, the ‘Hoos have needed points and rebounds from Britny, and she’s delivered.
“I’ve been real proud of her,” Whitny said. “I know what she’s capable of, and I wanted her to show everybody else, too.”