Edwards latest addition to Alcorn’s new athletic image|[07/02/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 2, 2008

JACKSON – Basketball has literally taken Tonya Edwards around the world.

She’s played in big gyms, little gyms and gyms in Europe. She’s played for high school, college and professional championships. And now, for her latest venture into the basketball world, she’s coming to Alcorn State.

Edwards, a former Tennessee star who won two national titles with the Lady Vols in the 1980s, was introduced as the new women’s basketball head coach at Alcorn on Tuesday. Edwards will officially start her job on Monday, when a four-year contract worth $95,000 per year goes into a effect. She replaces longtime coach Shirley Walker, whose contract was not renewed.

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“Their change and the direction they were looking to take the program in, and the enthusiasm for women’s athletics,” Edwards said when asked what piqued her interest in the Alcorn job. “It was quite similar to (athletic director) Dr. (Darren) Hamilton’s vision to raise the bar. It caused me to think, ‘wow, that’s something I want to be a part of.’ That change, that movement. To get a program to a level of Tennessee in the SWAC is something I want to be a part of.”

Unlike other recent hires, Edwards has no prior ties to Alcorn and, except for some relatives, few ties to Mississippi in general. She grew up in Flint, Mich. – coincidentally, the same hometown as new Alcorn football coach Ernest Jones – and played her college ball at Tennessee. As a pro, she played in Italy, Turkey and Israel, along with two different leagues in the U.S., and her entire coaching career to this point has been spent in Michigan.

She said her long and winding road through the basketball world would ease her adjustment to life in the SWAC.

“I tell people all the time I traveled around the world and back. I figure if I can live overseas for years at a time, I can live in Mississippi,” Edwards, whose last job was as an assistant at Detroit Mercy, said with a laugh.

Edwards knows a thing or two about winning.

As a player at Tennessee, she was named MOP of the Women’s Final Four in 1987 and helped the Lady Vols to a second national championship in 1989. Edwards also played on the 1987 U.S. national team. She was inducted to the University of Tennessee Women’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.

Edwards later won two championships with the Columbus Quest of the now-defunct American Basketball League – at the time, a rival to the WNBA – in 1997 and ’98 and was a two-time ABL all-star. Edwards also won a Michigan high school state championship as a coach in 1993, and two state titles as a high school player.

Hamilton said her long track record of success made Edwards a prime candidate for the job.

“When you look at what the foundation is at Alcorn, they truly are the home of champions. That’s in her blood. High school level, college level, professional level, she’s won on all of them,” Hamilton said. “She also has name recognition, and a great pedigree from (Tennessee) Coach Pat Summitt.”

Several players who were present at Tuesday’s press conference at The University Club in Jackson said they were happy with the hire. A brief hello and quick picture marked their first introduction to the new coach, but they said it was a strong first impression.

“She seems to be very enthused about taking us places. And she knows how to win,” said guard Iyuanna Brown, a former Hinds AHS star.

While players, bosses and alumni were all smiles on Tuesday, it won’t be long before Edwards jumps into the job. The recruiting season starts on her first day of work next week, and she also has to hire two assistant coaches. It will make for a busy summer, but she’s prepared for it.

“I don’t think it’ll be that big of a transition because you always have players and coaches you’re interested in. You always have a list in mind, and you’re always prepared for situations like this,” Edwards said.