LOS ANGELES — Edmond Sumner wants you to know that he isn’t shy.
Sit down with him, ask him questions and you’re going to get smart, well-reasoned and intelligent answers, even when those questions are about a subject he’d rather not talk about. Speaking in public, chatting with strangers, talking into a cell phone recording him on the record, he’s fine with this. Folks that are shy wouldn’t be.
So he’s not shy, he says.
He’s just … quiet.
“It’s two different things,” Sumner, Xavier’s star point guard and a future NBA player, said during a break at The Academy, a Nike-sponsored skills camp held in an airport hangar in Los Angeles. “I’ll carry on a conversation, but I’m not just going to walk up to you and start it.”
That’s certainly not a character flaw, but it can be an issue when you’re a point guard with first-round potential. We all know the clichés that come with playing that position, right? Be a leader. Be a coach on the floor. Be vocal. Don’t be afraid of scolding teammates when they’re out of position or missing defensive assignments. It’s not easy to be all of those things when your predisposed to silently playing the periphery.
How, as a coach, do you get a player to change a personality trait?
For Chris Mack, the answer was simple: Acting classes.
“‘You gotta talk, you gotta talk, you gotta talk.’ We can only say that so many times,” Mack said. “So what else can we do to push Edmond out of his comfort zone? Get him into places where he’s uncomfortable and still has to project his voice and talk.”
So the Musketeer staff did their due diligence and enrolled Sumner in a one-day course, getting him to drive with his dad from his hometown of Detroit to Cincinnati for a few hours. He walked into a room full of people he had never seen before. He read dialogue aloud. He practiced projecting his voice. He worked on being louder and clearer when he spoke. Most importantly, he did all this while in a situation totally out of his comfort zone.
And he did get something out of it — the staff was impressed when an NBCSports.com reporter told them how normal an interview with Sumner went — even if it wasn’t necessarily what Mack intended.
“She had us hold a chair over our heads, and I don’t know why, but it made your voice rise and speak more clear,” Sumner said. “I don’t know why holding a chair made you do that, but it worked though.”
“So maybe I should hold the chair over my head when I play.”
The Edmond Sumner that you will see suit up at the point guard spot for Xavier this season is not the Edmond Sumner that was lacing ’em up for Detroit Country Day School four years ago, when coach Chris Mack first started recruiting him.
The physical difference alone is jarring.
He’s added five inches and somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 pounds since then, enough to turn a fringe top 100 prospect coming out of high school into a potential first-round pick as a redshirt sophomore; 6-foot-6 point guards with his kind of quickness and vertical explosion don’t come around that often.
“I don’t think people would necessarily recognize the Edmond that came in two years ago as a freshman versus Edmond now,” Mack said. “He was probably 6-1, 6-2 at the most. Hundred-forty pounds. He was rail thin. People think he’s thin now, but you should have seen him as a junior in high school.”
And Sumner may still be rail thin today if it wasn’t for a severe case of tendonitis that forced him to sit out essentially the entire 2014-15 season and required him to get injections just to be able to get through workouts. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t jump. He couldn’t make it more than a month into the season before Xavier’s training staff decided to shut him down and make him redshirt for a year.
“My knee was just killing me,” Sumner said. “It took away my athleticism and my speed, it was like I wasn’t the same player.”
It was the best thing that could have happened to him.
Sumner was forced to do what he had never done before: Sitting out of practice while spending hours upon hours in the weight room. Squats, leg press, dead lifts. Every day, it seemed, was leg day, as Sumner worked with his trainers to build enough muscle in his legs to stabilize the knee.
Not only did he add weight and strength — he says he’s up over 180 pounds now and wants to be at 190 before the season starts — but the added muscle helped him added more than four inches to his vertical. That’s why plays like this weren’t unusual for Sumner this past season:
“I think when he looks back on it, what a great year for him,” Mack said. “The bad part about it was that he really wasn’t able to practice a whole lot. He didn’t get any playing experience.” But for Sumner, he was still able to gain something from sitting out. “I got to see the game before I had to play it. Instead of getting thrown into the fire, I got to see it for a whole year.”
That helped him, in part because of the way that Sumner can process that information.
“Sometimes when guys are quiet, it’s because they’re not very intelligent,” Mack said. “Edmond is a 180 from that. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached.” And Mack is not just talking about his basketball IQ. Sumner is working towards a degree in computer science, which is not your typical ‘athlete major’. “He’s very diligent, he’s a hard worker, he’s a quick study,” Mack said. “If you present him something, he picks it up. It’s made him really enjoyable and easy to coach.”
Mack still has plenty of coaching left to do; Sumner is far from a finished product. He shot just 30.1 percent from beyond the arc as a redshirt freshman, a number that is not acceptable for NBA point guards not named Russell Westbrook. He’s also still learning how to play as someone that is 6-foot-6. When you’ve spent formative years as a quick, little guard, developing the habits you need in order to deal with those quick, little guards is a process.
“It’s a big difference,” Sumner said. “I was small all the way up to my junior year, so I’m still battling it. I stand straight up. I have to keep on making sure to stay low to the ground, especially with these little guards who can get up in your pocket.”
And, of course, there’s the issue of breaking out of his shell, of becoming less and less introverted.
The Transformation Of Edmond Sumner was never going to be easy.
But this is what you’re supposed to do in college. Get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person while learning the skills you need in order to succeed in your desired profession.
Some people are born NBA players.
Sumner will have made himself into one.