On Jan. 29, Arizona played at LSU in a game that the Wildcats had scheduled as a homecoming for senior forward Eugene Edgerson, a native of New Orleans. Edgerson, however, was back in Tucson that day, taking the state certification exam for teachers. At one point during the test Edgerson checked the sports-update feature on his pager, only to discover that his teammates were losing by 20 points. "I didn't believe it," he says. "I figured the satellite people must be sending the wrong signals." As it turned out, the only thing gone awry that day was Arizona, which suffered its worst defeat in coach Lute Olson's 17-year tenure, 86-60. "It was disturbing," Edgerson says. "All my family and friends were there, and I wasn't. But I was doing something I felt was more important."
This should have been Edgerson's senior season at Arizona, but when he realized last spring that it was going to be impossible for him to play basketball and complete the requirements of his elementary education degree by graduation day, he decided to redshirt and finish his playing career as a graduate student next year. When informed of Edgerson's decision, Olson offered to adjust the Wildcats' practice times, but Edgerson believed his schedule would still be too cumbersome and held his ground. "When Coach came to my home to recruit me, I told him I was going to graduate in four years," he says. "I said it was going to happen, and it's going to happen."
Everything about Edgerson is old school. A 6'6", 230-pound scrapper who averaged 5.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a junior, Edgerson likes his sneakers old—he wore circa-1989 Nikes last season—and his Afro high, and once he starts driving toward a goal, he's awfully hard to stop.
He spent two days a week last fall observing at Elizabeth Borton Primary Magnet School in Tucson, and this semester lie's a full-time student teacher for a kindergarten class there. "They're like sponges," he says of his students. "You teach them a song, they're singing it the whole day. You teach them how to read, they want to pick up a book. They just really want to learn."
Edgerson, who practices with the Wildcats a couple of days a week, says there are times when he misses playing in games. Arizona misses him, too. He would have been the only senior on scholarship on a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores, and though the Wildcats were 23-4 through Sunday and ranked No. 4 in the nation, Olson has had just seven scholarship players at his disposal since 6'7" sophomore Richard Jefferson broke a bone in his right foot on Jan. 8.
Still, Edgerson says he has never had a second thought about his decision. He intends to pursue pro basketball, but even if his on-court career takes off, it appears he'll have little trouble staying grounded. "I've come across a lot of people who think they're the greatest gift to the game of basketball, but they're living in a fantasy world," he says. "I've always been told I have to work for everything I get. This is the first year I haven't been playing basketball competitively since I was eight years old. It's weird in a sense, but I know I'm doing the right thing."