NEWARK — Fuquan Edwin recalls being 13 years old when the Paterson (N.J.) Police Dept. roared into his home in the Alabama projects and made Edwin and his entire family get down on the floor.
“They were looking for somebody, actually, and they came to my house,” Edwin told SNY.tv exclusively after he scored a career-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds as No. 24 Seton Hall crushed DePaul, 94-73, Tuesday night. “They were in full armor. They told everybody to get on the floor.”
Edwin was in the house with his mother, Anisa Thomas, his aunt and his uncle and Edwin said the police mistook the TV remote his uncle was holding for a gun.
“And they said, ‘Put it down, put it down,’” Edwin recalled. “He put it down. It was very scary.”
The Alabama projects — created in the 1950s as the Alexander Hamilton Public Housing Project — was so rife with crime, drugs and vandalism, it was nicknamed “The Pound.”
“It was tough, it was really tough, every night hearing gunshots and you’re worrying about the cops,” Edwin said. “I had a brother [Ryhen Thomas] that was gang-related, so it was tough, it was pretty tough.”
So tough that in 2007, the federal government gave approval to demolish the projects.
“It got knocked down my freshman year in high school, so I had to move,” Edwin said.
Edwin’s family moved out but he has moved on.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore has now topped his career-high in back-to-back games, following up a 24-point performance in Saturday’s win at Providence with this performance in which he tied his career-high in the first half and then eclipsed it late in the game with a 3-pointer and a subsequent foul shot.
He entered the game leading the nation in steals at 3.2 per game and has 53 for the season. He is on pace for 98, which would break the single-season record of 90 set in 2006-7 by Paul Gause.
“Fuquan deserves a lot of credit for the fact that he’s doing it on the defensive end,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s putting up great numbers. I mean, these are fantastic numbers the last two games. But he’s even better on defense…He’s getting known to be a defensive guy and the offense is just kind of coming naturally because he’s playing so hard defensively.”
Jordan Theodore, who has known Edwin since they were young and was his teammate at Paterson Catholic, says Edwin’s style of play reflects his upbringing.
The Alabama projects were so tough, Theodore said, that even he didn’t dare enter them.
“I’ve heard a lot of stuff,” said Theodore, who grew up in nearby Englewood. “I really didn’t go in there like that, but he grew up there. When he was young it was really tough.”
Edwin first began playing basketball because Ryhen Thomas, his oldest brother, played.
“He was always playing basketball,” Edwin recalled. “I just wanted to be like him.”
Yet Thomas did not stay focused on hoops and became distracted by street life, spending a few stints in prison, Edwin said.
“He stopped playing basketball, he got into the streets a little bit,” Edwin said. “He fell off high school, and I just looked at him. I mean, he was doing it, I didn’t want to do it. I just wanted to make my mom proud and I just stuck with basketball.”
Edwin said his brother has since “learned his lesson.”
“He’s actually got a 3-year-old kid,” he said. “He’s just taking care of him and working.’
Edwin blew up as a freshman at Paterson Catholic, averaging a double-double and putting on a show with his ability to rebound.
“He scores like we breathe,” New York recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski said of Edwin.
Coached by Damon Wright, those PC teams were loaded with future Division 1 players, including Theodore, current Rutgers point guard Myles Mack and Edwin. They won three straight Passaic County championships, demolishing local competition and winning the prestigious City of Palms event in Florida in 2009.
During the 2009-10 season, PC went 28-1, losing only to St. Anthony in the New Jersey state tournament.
Current Rutgers freshman Eli Carter was the star for St. Anthony with 28 points and 14 rebounds, while Edwin scored a team-best 22 points for PC. UCLA-bound point guard Kyle Anderson, then a sophomore at PC and now the star at St. Anthony, scored 10.
Through his high school years, Edwin said basketball kept him focused on a goal and able to avoid the streets.
“Everybody kept me focused,” he said. “Even people that wasn’t related to me would come to the gym and help me shoot. Basketball-wise, it was pretty good.”
Edwin committed to then-Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez in June 2009, choosing the Pirates over Providence.
Along with Theodore and senior forward Herb Pope, the trio are the lone holdovers from the Gonzalez Era but are also the team’s best players.
Edwin is a soft-spoken, quiet person, yet his style of play is both aggressive and tactical. He said he studies film with Seton Hall associate head coach Shaheen Holloway in order to learn opposing players’ tendencies.
“He’s just a tough hard-nosed guy, man,” Theodore said. “He brings a lot to the table. He’s going to continue to fight.
“He’s not going to come out and just give a ‘BS’ effort. He’s soing to give his all if he comes on the court. That’s why we love the guy.
“I told him to come to Seton Hall because I wanted to play with him and I know he wants to play with me because we did big things in high school and why not continue in the college ranks?”
Like Pope and Theodore, Edwin hopes to play professionally one day in order to take care of his family.
“Yes, definitely,” he said. “That’s what I’m striving to do right now. That’s what I’m striving for.”
Reflecting back on his young life, Edwin knows that basketball — and his education — have helped him avoid the pitfalls that sidetracked so many around him, including his brother.
And if not for basketball and the structured life it brought him, the same might’ve happened to him.
“I would probably be on the streets,” he said, “but luckily I stay focused on basketball.”