To Anthony Edwards, Kobe Bryant was his GOAT. When asked about the legendary Los Angeles Lakers star who tragically passed away this past Sunday, he recounted seeing at a Hawks game as a kid and marveling at his offensive game.
He also shared something that Bryant had once told a group of kids that has stayed with the young Georgia basketball star.
“I’d seen a video of him telling kids that he wanted to destroy his opponent and make them reconsider why they chose to play basketball,” Edwards said. “That sticks with me. I told my trainer to text that to me every day and remember what the Mamba says.”
On Saturday, it certainly seemed like Edwards was channeling that Mamba Mentality as he picked apart Texas A&M. He finished with a game-high 29 points, a career-high 15 rebounds all while playing 39 minutes in the 63-48 win.
The effort was much needed for a Georgia team that came in on a four-game losing streak. Because of the winning plays he made — beyond the buckets — Georgia cruised to a double-digit win just days after blowing a 20-point lead against Missouri.
“Based on his performance today I thought he was incredible,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams marveled afterward. “I thought his impact on winning may have been as good as it has been all year.”
Georgia is now 12-9 on the season and 2-6 in SEC play. The Bulldogs still have a long way to go and much to do if the Bulldogs are even going to think about making an NCAA tournament run.
But Saturday was a solid start. The Bulldogs going forward need to be able to string together some wins, and they’re going to need more performances similar to what Edwards gave on Saturday.
Yes, Edwards made his usual array of jumpers and showed off his range as he knocked down four 3-pointers for Georgia. Making shots has never really been the concern for the talented freshman just given his impressive gifts.
But what made this game feel so different, perhaps the best he’s looked in a Georgia win all season was because he made all those little winning plays that pushed Georgia ahead of Texas A&M.
Bryant famously went 6-for-24 in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. But he still pushed his team to a win, and championship, as he finished with 15 free throw attempts and 15 rebounds in the game.
Edwards, in addition to the 15 rebounds, added 14 deflections for Georgia. That led to two steals as well as a block on the defensive end. But it also gave Edwards the opportunity to run out and get some easy transition baskets.
One of those deflections led to a euro-step and-1. Another led to an impressive windmill dunk.
Anthony Edwards W I N D M I L L 🔥 pic.twitter.com/FGkm0DpZbt
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 1, 2020
“Defensively I thought he was engaged,” Williams said. “I thought he did a lot of things that impacted winning and he was dominant in every specific category.”
Edwards game isn’t a direct reflection of Bryant’s — the latter would never smile and celebrate in-game as much as the former does — but Georgia needs Edwards to show some more of that Mamba Mentality that helped the Lakers win five championships.
Because while Edwards is just only 18 years old, Bryant was already playing in the NBA at that age. Edwards will be heading there next season, likely as one of the top picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.
And if he puts up more performances like this one, it could possibly be as the No. 1 overall pick.
Georgia still has another full month of its season before Edwards can head to the NBA. It has 10 games left in SEC play and a chance to possibly make an NCAA tournament run.
That’s why Saturday should be seen as an encouraging sign for Edwards and Georgia. It will need more complete games and efforts, ones that Bryant so often gave, if Edwards is going to help turn Georgia into a consistent winner this season.
“I said to him, ‘It’s all got to turn up now that it’s in February,'” Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean said. “And that’s what the team has to learn.”