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The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and   I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken’ Cairns Taipans import Fuquan Edwin is a genuine basketball success story. Growing increasingly comfortable in the NBL, Edwin was a key part of the Taipans’ two wins last weekend over Melbourne and Illawarra. He scored in double figures in both games and applied his trademark defensive pressure during an important week for the snakes. In fact, Edwin’s two clutch triples in the fourth quarter against Melbourne were massive shots in the context of Cairns’ season. The truth is though, in many ways, Edwin should never really have made it to the NBL in the first place. Growing up surrounded by violence and poverty, the odds were stacked against young Fuquan ever achieving his dream of becoming a professional baller. His home in Paterson, New Jersey – located in the Section 8 housing complex known as the ‘Alabama Projects’ – was amid one of the roughest parts of one of the roughest towns in America. Drugs. Guns. Gangs. That was his environment. Successfully navigating adolescence, for Edwin, was about making sure he didn’t fit in. Fitting in would have taken him down a much different path, down the road more often travelled. “The people I had in my corner, to this day the same people are in my corner helping out,” Edwin said. “I was just definitely fortunate enough in my area to have great people like that around.” Now in Cairns, with its palm trees and sandy beaches, Edwin is about as far removed from his origins as a person can get. “There's no palm trees over there, just dead trees,” Edwin said, when asked about his hometown. Edwin’s biggest success is in ‘making it out’, but those formative experiences helped carve out the player– and the man – he is today. “I just knew that with my hard work, basketball could take me places,” Edwin explained. “I had no idea exactly where, but I knew basketball could take me places and I decided to embrace all the moments wherever I go.” After a four-year college career at Seton Hall, Edwin played in the NBA D-League with Sioux Falls in 2014-15 before a short stint in Venezuela and, most recently, a year in the Israeli Premier League. It was at last year’s NBA Summer League, while playing for New Orleans, that Edwin first caught the eye of Taipans coach Aaron Fearne. A year down the track and he’s an important piece to Fearne’s championship puzzle. “Everyone is important but Fu brings a lot of stuff that you won’t see on the stats sheet,” Cairns captain Cameron Gliddon told NBL Media. “He brings some great defensive reads, he would be our best on-ball defender by a mile. He's of huge importance to the team.” Edwin floored his coaches and teammates during the pre-season when he spoke openly about his background and how far he’s come. “He's just grateful that he is here, playing basketball, in a country that he's really enjoying. It gives him the opportunity to be out of that very difficult environment he came from,” Fearne told NBL Media this week. “He's been shot at. He's had five bullets put in a car while driving down the street. When he talks about it it’s just like it’s an everyday part of life. Hard for us to really understand.” It goes without saying, but Edwin’s frankness helped draw his teammates closer. “It was really good to hear him get up and talk and say that he is very grateful to be here and that he really appreciates how close we are as a team,” Gliddon reflected. “He's just a great guy to have on the team. He’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion; always happy off the court and on the court he's always engaged and just a good teammate to have.” That emotion is part of what defines Edwin as a player. His swagger is elite and he’s not afraid to talk a little smack between the lines. “Coach Fearne knows that about me, because there will be times where I won't be talking and he feels like if I'm not talking, I'm not engaged and I have to agree with that,” Edwin said. “When I'm engaged and talking, just being who I am, like you say, with the swag, I feel like I play better. That's my game.” Edwin has been working closely with Cairns assistant coach Jamie Pearlman recently, on finding his spots more consistently within the Taipans’ offense. The extra film sessions are helping, with his increased aggressiveness paying dividends last weekend. “He's got to take good three-pointers, uncontested good looks, and obviously he's got to knock them down. But when that is taken away get on the rim,” Fearne said. “I think he can definitely tick those boxes and then be a lock-down defender. He's got to want to be one of the better defenders in the NBL when he gets really settled into this thing.” As the season progresses, Fearne plans to hand Edwin more and more freedom at the defensive end, unleashing his potential on that side of the ball. Think Greg Whittington in Sydney (or Darnell Mee from seasons past), making reads and shooting the lanes. That will work just fine for Edwin, who believes the sky’s the limit for the Taipans this year. “I have a lot of belief and confidence in our team,” the import said. “I think that with Cam (Gliddon) and our leaders leading us we can do some big things. We just have to keep putting the pieces together, working hard and anything is possible.” Edwin knows all about working hard, it’s what helped him take the road less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.   Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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