The worn-out basketball that William Edelin bought for two dollars at a flea market and used to teach his son, Billy, how to play has long since disappeared. The fundamentals Billy learned as a second-grader growing up in Silver Spring with that ball have stuck, and Billy Edelin is now one of the top players on the area's top boys team, No. 1 DeMatha.
"You see some kids who never reach their potential because they don't have the fundamentals," said Billy Edelin, a junior at the Hyattsville private school. "I was lucky that I learned those things early so I have a good understanding of the game. When you're that little, you just look at basketball as having fun. You don't always want to work on some things, but when you first start playing in games, you realize that the work did pay off."
Edelin, a 6-foot-2 guard, has blossomed into the most consistent player for DeMatha (15-1). His all-around game is solid: He leads the team in scoring (20 points per game) and assists (five per game). He also is the team leader in steals (three per game) and, rather remarkable for a wing guard, offensive rebounds (three per game).
"The offense that DeMatha runs is perfect for him," said McNamara senior Jahmal Rich, who fouled out trying to guarded Edelin in the Stags' 87-62 victory on Jan. 11 (when Edelin scored 28 points). "They have Jordan [Collins, a 6-10 center] and Travis [Garrison, a 6-8 forward], and you have to worry about them, so that means that Billy is really going one-on-one with people. You have to be careful when you're guarding him because as soon as the ball is out of the basket, he's sprinting down the court, looking for the ball."
Going to the basket is Edelin's strength. "I don't take a lot of tough shots," said Edelin, a 56 percent shooter. "That way, it's harder to have an off-night."
He rarely shoots from outside (he attempted only eight three-pointers, making two, in his first 15 games), and instead uses his quickness to blow past defenders and drive. Sometimes he'll pull up for a short jump shot, other times he'll end up with a layup or dunk or foul (he leads the team in free throws attempted).
"I'd describe him as a smart basketball player," Rich said. "If you're guarding him and someone [a teammate] does step up and help you, he knows where to get the ball to."
"He's very quick with the ball and is able to create his own shot," longtime DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten said. "If he can't get you one way, he'll get you another way. That's what good all-around players can do."
Edelin's father played baseball--not basketball--at the since-closed Mackin High School in Northwest during the early 1970s. One day, while picking Billy up from the second grade, William noticed his son trying to toss a red rubber ball into a basketball hoop. Billy's teacher told William that the boy did that every day, so William went to a flea market in Silver Spring and bought a basketball for two dollars. Every day after school, father and son worked together.
"I used to make him dribble with his left hand and he would say, 'That's hard!' " William said. "At the time, [Michael] Jordan was his hero, so I would tell him that Jordan can go both ways equally well. Sometimes Billy would get mad, but any time he didn't want to play, we'd go in. I never had to make him do anything--he wanted to be the best."
Edelin hasn't forgotten those first lessons. He has a tattoo of a cobra, the logo from his second-grade basketball team, on his left arm that reminds him "that no matter how much success or adversity I go through, I'll always remember that team because that's where I started."
Just below the tattoo, Edelin wears a wristband with the letters "DBTH"--an acronym for "Don't Believe The Hype." William Edelin and Steve Ellis--the coaches of the Cobras, Billy's first team--founded "Don't Believe The Hype--Play The Game" in order to educate parents of talented student-athletes on the ups and downs of dealing with college recruiters and Amateur Athletic Union coaches.
"My dad has definitely had a part in my basketball career," Edelin said. "But I've been blessed with great opportunities and good coaches along the way. I've been fortunate all the way around, and it started with my dad."
And a two-dollar basketball.