Growing Up ... Micheal Eric
Usually, the Cavalier players we talk to in the Growing Up feature having been playing some sort of basketball from about the time right after they’ve learned to walk.
Not Micheal Eric.
The rugged reserve forward, who’s trying to lock down a position on the team’s frontcourt, didn’t start playing basketball until 2004, the same year that the guy he’s hoping to back up – Anderson Varejao – was drafted.
Eric was born in Lagos, Nigeria and came to the States to live with his brother’s family in Delaware. But Eric’s height prompted his brother to prompt him to give hoops a chance. He did and the rest, as they say, is history.
Eventually, he would be recruited by nearby Temple University, where Eric played in 101 games for the Owls – starting 68. In four years, he averaged 6.0 points on .503 shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He made his mark as a senior in 2011-12, averaging 9.0 points and leading the squad in rebounds (8.8) and blocked shots (2.1).
In July, the 6-11, 240-pounder played in five Summer League games with the Cavaliers in Vegas and averaged 4.0 points on .667 shooting and 3.8 rebounds per contest.
Now he finds himself at the tail end of “Camp Scott” – still battling for a roster spot. While he does, cavs.com sat down with the easygoing rookie to ask him about growing up in Nigeria, his transition from soccer to basketball and, of course, his first dunk …
Back in Lagos … I didn’t play much basketball at all. I barely played basketball in Nigeria. It was more soccer – the whole country is about soccer.
My dad is … a soccer coach. So, my whole household was soccer. But my height was more of an attraction to everyone who played basketball in Nigeria. Even my brother was intrigued by my height.
As a soccer player … I was decent. I was too tall and I just had growing pains, literally, in the ankles and the knees. I just couldn’t catch up to the other guys. But I was pretty decent.
I didn’t have one … big growth spurt. I’ve been growing gradually since I was nine or ten. I was taller than the average nine- or ten-year-old and I was the tallest in every school I went to.
I did go from … 6-8 to 6-10 from my senior year of high school to my freshman year of college. That was the biggest jump I’ve had. When I was 6-8 as a freshman that summer, I was average for my team. When I was with my teammates, I was the same height as them.
But in the summer of 2008 … I shot up, and then I was looking down on them a little.
They don’t have the same … basketball divisions growing up in Nigeria. It was more like ‘camps.’ There wasn’t AAU or anything like that in Nigeria where you travel to play games.
As kids, you attend … camps and guys from the NBA come down and do camps and teach the game of basketball teach the value of basketball. Olumide Oyedeji came down to Nigeria when I was there. And after that, there’s a lot more that’s been coming down. Obinna Ekezie came there. Even younger guys that were born here, but they’re from Nigerian descent, they come to Nigeria and start camps.
As a city … Lagos is very busy. It’s huge – I think the fourth-largest growing population in the world. It’s like New York, multiplied by two. There’s the rich area, there’s the poor area, all combined in one. There’s like a division between the water where you go to one side of the water there’s the skyscrapers and you see the city. And on the other side of the water, you see the poor neighborhoods. It’s an interesting place.
I try to go back … once a year. But the past two or three years I haven’t because of this basketball dream of mine.
Basketball has spread … nationwide now. But when I was growing up, it wasn’t much more than just competitions – like national team competitions and camps.
I come from a …pretty athletic family. They all did some form of sports. My one sister tried to be a goalkeeper in soccer. Another sister did a lot of badminton and track. My brother was just a soccer fanatic – he’s a fan and he tried to play. And that’s it.
I’m the only one … who chose basketball. But I had the height, so basketball chose me, pretty much.
My brother moved to … Delaware about 12 years ago. He came here for the education. He went to Delaware State University on academic scholarship. A few years later, he has a family. He has a house. And I decided to move in with him.
I first considered basketball … after a couple weeks in his house. He was like: “Yo, what are you doing? You’re too tall to just be eating all my food all day and not doing anything constructive!’ And all his friends and co-workers were chirping, like: “He should play basketball. He’s tall and so young – he’s only 15, 16. What’s he doing in the house?” So I thought: “Why not?’
I barely understood … the sport when I first started here. I was just messing around with the basketball. Sometimes I’d turn it into a soccer ball. Flip it up in the air, throw it on the ground and kick it.
At first, the speed of the game …was beyond a 100 miles per hour. It was my first experience. It was my first showing of whatever I had. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the atmosphere would be like. I was just overwhelmed, totally. I still remember that day. I literally froze up. I didn’t know what to do.
My teammates and coaches …were very patient. They saw how raw I was. They saw that things weren’t clicking, but that I was getting a feel for it.
There were three major … coaching influences in my life. My high school coach was Mark Turner from Church Farm High School in Exton, Pennsylvania. My AAU coach was Dwayne Coverdale – who was the one who got me into playing basketball and who introduced me to the high school coach. Then my college coach, Fran Dunphy – a tremendous human being. You can’t learn from anybody better than that.
Of course I remember …my first dunk! I tried dunking a lot of times in high school in Delaware. They’d teach me the steps. Guys would be like: “You’re 6-7, 6-8. Just go up and do it! Just do it!” And I tried!
Then, in one practice … they were running the back-door play and they were telling me to go back-door and do it. So I went back-door and I caught the ball and for some reason I decided to jump as high as I could and dunked it.
I didn’t even know …how I even got the ball in there, but I grabbed the rim and looked back and everybody was like: “AAAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!!” And I was like: “Wow! That feels good!” And since that point, I fell in love with dunking.