They are two of the most fabled players in Wright State basketball history.
They are the program’s two all-time leading scorers and the two guys who led their respective Raiders teams to the only other bids to the NCAA Tournament WSU has had since becoming a Division I program 31 years ago.
And even though both Bill Edwards and DaShaun Wood went on to long pro careers, both still feel a special connection to Wright State and especially this year’s NCAA Tournament-bound team.
And Edwards – who scored 2,302 points and grabbed 907 rebounds, both program bests from a WSU career that went from 1989 to 1993 – was faced with a unique situation when some pre-tournament prognosticator had the Raiders opening the Round of 64 against Purdue.
His son Vincent, a 6-foot 8 senior forward out of Middletown High School, is a Boilermaker star with 1,591 career points, 755 rebounds and 398 assists.
“Right off I told my son, “I’ll sit on the Purdue side, but I’ll be wearing my Wright State gear,’” Edwards said.
“His mom said, ‘You can’t do that! It will look life you’re rootin’ for Wright State!’
“And I said, ‘Well, so be it…I went to Wright State. And besides, everybody loves an underdog.”
Wood – who starred at Wright State from 2003 to 2007 and finished with 1,849 points – had no such competing concerns as he sat courtside at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit last Tuesday night and watched the Raiders dispatch of Cleveland State in the Horizon League Tournament title game and earn the school’s third NCAA Tournament invite as a D-I program.
“As time was ticking down in the arena Tuesday night, it gave me that same tingling sensation that ran through my body in ’07,” Wood said.
“It’s an unforgettable feeling. People don’t realize how hard it is to get those moments.”
It not only takes a good coach and players who mesh, but often some real grit and adaptability in the face of setbacks and change.
Just as this year’s Raiders team persevered after losing players – from Ryan Custer who suffered a spinal cord injury to senior Justin Mitchell who left the team halfway through the season – the 92-93 team that Edwards led to the tournament lost Sean Hammonds (whose WSU career would include 1,176 points and 633 rebounds) to a knee injury after just three games.
And just as this team experienced a coaching change last season when Scott Nagy replaced Billy Donlon, the 2006-07 team Wood guided to the tournament saw Paul Biancardi, the coach who had recruited most of them, replaced by Brad Brownell and Donlon, his top assistant.
Both Edwards and Wood like what they’ve seen of this year’s 25-9 team.
“I like the group of freshmen they have and that transfer point guard is pretty good, too,” said Edwards, who watched an early season practice and has since seen the Raiders on TV.
Wood, who parted ways with his French pro team four months ago following a knee injury, is back home in Detroit with his wife and three children. He’s seen the Raiders in person four times this season.
“I think this team has the perfect balance,” he said. “They have a great point guard who stayed poised and never got selfish and wanted to look for his. He always made sure the team was taken care of.
“And they have a great inside presence, especially with (Loudon) Love. He’s just an animal down low, getting every rebound and finishing with some great hands and footwork.
“They have a great shooter with Benzinger and some athletic wing players, too.
“I think this team is good top to bottom.”
As a high school senior Edwards starred at Batavia in football, then transferred to Carlisle and did the same in basketball.
Although he initially got more scholarship interest in football – Georgia Tech came to his home and offered a scholarship – he turned his interest to basketball and then couldn’t decide what to do.
Finally, he once told me, his exasperated mom stepped in, handed him the paperwork to WSU, and said, “Hon, sign it.”
“I just scribbled my name,’ he said. “I’m surprised anyone could read my name.”
Yet, once he got to WSU, he put his signature on the program in bold strokes unlike any player before or since.
Playing for legendary coach Ralph Underhill and his longtime right hand man, Jim Brown, now a WSU radio broadcaster, Edwards helped usher the Raiders – who had won the NCAA Division II crown in 1983 – into a new era.
He played his freshman year in the old P.E. Building and that year WSU went into UD Arena and beat the Flyers, 101-99. Next came the move to the Nutter Center, entry into the Mid-Continent Conference and finally a senior season in which WSU averaged 90.2 points per game.
The Raiders – which included 7-foot center Mike Nahar and point guard Mark Woods – were led by Edwards, nicknamed – “Dolla Bill” – after scoring 45 points, still a WSU record, against Morehead State.
He said Chick Ludwig, then the WSU beat writer for the Dayton Daily News, coined the name: “He said if you gave me the ball, it was like money in the bank.”
In front of a Nutter Center crowd of 9,247, he scored 38 points and Nahar added 25 to lead WSU over UIC for the Mid-Continent Tournament title and that elusive first NCAA Tournament bid. Raiders fans stormed the court afterward.
A No. 16 seed, WSU was matched against Indiana, the No. 1 overall seed in tournament, in a game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
“It was a terrible draw,” Edwards said. “They sent us to play Indiana in Indianapolis. It was like a (expletive) home game for them.”
That became clear the day before the game when 30,000 IU fans, stayed over after the Indiana practice to roast the Raiders during their session with Hoosier chants.
Indiana won the mismatch, 97-54. The margin wouldn’t have been that great, but Underhill emptied his bench with five minutes left to make sure every player got an NCAA Tournament experience.
Edwards, who had been the team MVP all four seasons at WSU, went on to a 13-year pro career playing in the CBA, throughout Europe and a few games with the 1994 Philadelphia 76ers.
He is the only WSU men’s player whose jersey has been retired.
Unwavering support at WSU
Wood transferred high schools as a junior, sat out a season and had just one year to impress college recruiters.
“I was a late bloomer,” he said. “It’s hard for schools to jump on you that late, but Paul Biancardi though took a chance on me.”
On the way to Wright State, Wood did the same thing current big man Loudon Love did two years ago. He changed his last name.
Loudon used to be called Vollbrecht, but changed to Love, the last name of his mom who raised him.
DaShaun was known as Lynch, his mom’s last name, but changed it to Wood in honor of his dad who raised him.
Once at WSU, Wood said he found love and support:
“It was the perfect place for me. It was more than just basketball. It gave me an education and a family. Wright State had it all for me and made be a better person.”
The support was never stronger than in that freshman season when his mom, who long had battled drugs, died.
“Coach Biancardi drove me to my mother’s funeral and sat through it with me,” Wood said quietly. “I’ll never forget that.”
His senior season Brownell replaced Biancardi and Wood said it took some adjustment:
“From day one Coach Brownell and Coach Billy Donlon sat me down in the office and explained they wanted me to help get things going on the right track. They said they believed in me which made it easier for me to believe in them. And with their backgrounds, I told myself I’d be an idiot if I didn’t believe in them.”
Wood – who would be the team MVP a third time that season – averaged 19.6 points per game.
Playing in front of a crowd of 10,686 at the Nutter Center, WSU beat Butler 60-55 in the Horizon League Tournament final to win the school’s second NCAA Tournament invite. Wood scored 27 points and was carried around the court by the crowd which had poured out of the stands.
The Raiders were a No. 14 seed and played No. 3 Pitt in Buffalo. They lost 79-58 and now – even after a 10-year pro career overseas – Wood still focuses on that game.
And that prompted some advice for this year’s tournament team.
“We had put so much hard work in and grinded through the whole season that it felt like a big weight had been lifted off our backs,” he said. “We were so happy to be in the tournament that we just kind of went along for the ride.
“I wouldn’t want these guys to go to the tournament with the same mindset we had and just be happy to be there.
“They should go into the game with confidence and be ready to win. Everybody is beatable.
“So I’d tell them If tell them: ‘We set the bar high, but you guys can take over and surpass that bar. You can make history. You can be the first team to win in the NCAA Tournament.”