At Texas Legends headquarters, there is no off-season. As far as what that means here, we are entering the “Where are they now?” portion of the calendar year, and there is no better place to start than with recently crowned Eurocup champion and former Texas Legend Micheal Eric.
Last month, the Darüşşafaka professional basketball team became the second Turkish team ever to win the Eurocup. Following a championship sweep, what’s next for Darüşşafaka is qualification for the esteemed EuroLeague.
Eric compares the jump from Eurocup to EuroLeague like one he knows a thing or two about. “That’s a big accomplishment for the club,” he says. “Being able to take them to the EuroLeague, pretty much you’re taking a team from the G League to the NBA, that’s how it works. Because of the championship. That’s great to do that, and now you get to play against even more NBA players. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
After averaging 7.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 57 percent during 22 games in the Eurocup season, Micheal Eric helped mark a historic season for the Istanbul-based team.
“Man, it was great. It was a great experience, and it’s also a big deal out here. Here in Europe, it’s a big deal. Just to be a part of it, be part of history. Darüşşafaka hadn’t won a European cup and we rewrote history for them. How it came together was a unique experience and a proud moment as a player. Just putting everything together and winning a championship was a proud moment for everyone.”
Literally thousands of NBA-quality players have played overseas. But, as Eric found out, you don’t truly realize the quality of players across the pond until you make the journey yourself.
“Until a player comes out here, you don’t realize how great the players are. Some players left the NBA to come play in Europe, some players are on the verge of being superstars, the younger guys, it’s just a combination of all. Some players are proving people wrong because they never got the chance to play Division I, but they have talent. Coming to Europe to make a living for yourself but also playing at a high level, it’s amazing the players you get out here and competing. Stateside, we don’t really know that until you come out here and play and you’re like ‘wow, it’s really different.’”
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Eric was a soccer player in his youth. But as he grew, one of his closest family members became his best advisor. His older brother, Stephen, was already in the United States studying at Delaware State.
Making one of their frequent family trips to the States, Stephen saw how big his younger brother was getting and made the decision to keep him in America, and to fully pursue basketball.
“It wasn’t until I was 15, when I was taller than many of my peers, and my brother was not having it, me going back to Nigeria. He said, ‘you’re going to finish school in the U.S. and hopefully you pick up basketball, because you’re too tall to just be walking around playing soccer.’ That’s how basketball came up.
“Initially, I was thinking about it because everyone was giving me issues about not playing basketball wherever I go. Everyone was asking who I played for and I’m like, ‘uh, nobody.’ So I was thinking maybe I should play basketball because everyone keeps thinking I do. Then, my brother made that transition a lot easier because he was on board and wanting me to play.”
Surely this happens a lot. The part of the story that doesn’t always come to fruition is the experiment succeeding. Well, for Micheal Eric, the results came in quickly.
“It took me literally a few months. Working out, trying to learn some new things, I was excelling quicker than expected. I was doing little things like blocking shots and I saw the faces on people in the crowds when I was blocking shots or trying to dunk. The oohs and aahs were very indicative of that moment. I just wanted to improve the oohs and aahs and see how many oohs and aahs I could get at the end of the day. Then, I started working on the fundamentals and started seeing improvement and growth in that, and picked up from there. It made me want to play more because I started to see improvement in something I never thought I’d do.”
Eventually skying to 6 foot 11, Eric averaged a ridiculous eight blocks per game in his junior year of high school, to go along with an impressive 16 points and 15 rebounds. He signed on to play college ball at Temple and was named co-captain his junior year. Unfortunately, he battled a patella fracture that cost him much of his final two college seasons.
While Eric hasn’t cracked the NBA yet, he’s come within a phone call on many occasions. After going undrafted in 2012, he caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league team. That led to him playing for their G League team, the Canton Charge, where he made the G League All-Rookie Second Team.
He played in the following summer league with the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors before returning to the G League, this time with the Texas Legends.
“My time in the G League was more of a developmental state of mind. It took a lot physically, emotionally and also gets you stronger for whatever is ahead. It got me stronger for that, whether it was making it to the NBA on a call-up, I would be ready to play against the best. Or going to Europe, I would still be able to play against the best. If I come across any disappointment, I would still be able to deal with it at the end of the day.”
After playing in Greece and Italy in 2014 and 2015, he returned to the Legends in 2016 and made the G League All-Star roster as well as the G League All-Defensive Team.
“I learned all at once in the G League. I didn’t get a call-up, but I still excelled in the G League. Even though I didn’t get the job offer, it still prepared me mentally. It was a great experience that playing in the G League brought to my career.”
Following the season, he played with yet another NBA club in the summer, this time the Washington Wizards. A lot of eyes and ears have scouted Eric, and are expected to do so again this summer.
The 29-year old will hang by the phones again this off-season for an NBA opportunity. “I’m going to wait for calls. A couple of NBA teams have called recently, and in the summer I’ll narrow it down to which one I might fit in depending on what situation sounds right. Every summer, I get a call from a few teams here and there and I look at the roster for possibilities and go out there for a few weeks to work out with them in mini-camp. If it doesn’t fit, I continue my career in Europe. If it does, I go to training camp and try to lock a roster like I’ve done with the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers in the past.”
An accomplished summer league player, a G League All-Star and defensive stalwart, and now an international champion, it’s a good thing brother Stephen got Micheal Eric into basketball.