Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Baskonia from Vitoria to Yad Eliyahu for a Euroleague Gameday 29 clash under the pale of the Coronavirus. The Yellow & Blue clinched a playoff spot last week with a home win over Anadolu EFES but then fell to Red Star Belgrade in Serbia as their record stands at 19-9 going into the game versus the Spaniards. Baskonia currently sit in 13th place with a 12-16 record just one game out of a playoff position.
Ahead of the contest, Baskonia center Michael Eric spoke to The Sports Rabbi about a myriad of topics from his time with the Nigerian National Team at the World Cup, playing under David Blatt and with Scottie Wilbekin in Turkey with Darussafaka and of course the team’s renaissance of late under Coach Dusko Ivanovic.
“We have to keep doing what we have done these last 6-7 games,” explained Eric as the club looks to move into the Top 8. “We’ve improved a lot after the break. The first two games we didn’t to well but after that we improved little things that we talked about like communicating, defending, rebounding and standing together all through the games. If we can continue that way then it will be an easy transition to get into the playoffs.”
Last year with Darussafaka, Eric scored 20 points against Maccabi and in fact averaged 11 points while this year he’s seen that drop by almost half to 5.7 points per game. “It’s a different role for me this year. Last year I was more the captain of the team and a lot of offense ran through me. But this year my role is really to get everyone involved whether it’s to set good screens, be positive for the younger guys, the centers. So last year I was in more of an offensive position and in this year’s role I’m more on the defensive end protecting.”
The 6”11 big man grew up in Nigeria but moved to the United States at a very young age. Making the transition of course wasn’t an easy task, “It was tough adapting at a young age but having faith and praying a lot that I can make the right decisions in my life I think helped me out a lot. I’m very religious and I had the support of my family around me just to keep me level headed. Once I was able to believe that if I make the right decision and do the right thing, goos things will happen to you. So I focused on that and my adapting was easier.”
After attending high schools in Delaware and Pennsylvania, Eric attended Temple University where he played under Coach Fran Dunphy and advanced to the NCAA Tournament every year, “It was an amazing experience. It was probably one of the best 4-5 years of my life where each year I had to learn new things, university games and playing for a legendary coach in Fran Dunphy and a legendary organization and university like Temple which was the best years of my life.”
After college, Eric went undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft and began his professional basketball career with stops in the G-League, Italy, Greece and Spain before landing up in Turkey. During the first of two years at Darussafaka, he was able to win the 2018 edition of the EuroCup with Israeli/American coach David Blatt. ”David Blatt is a great guy and great human being, the number one human being. A very good believer in talent and a good believer in art work. When I played for him we talked a lot about dominating the day and seizing the moments where our biggest things. With his current situation I know he is dominating and I know he’s trying to persevere through the illness and in his words, just dominate the day. I know he’s doing that each day.”
Eric also played with Scottie Wilbekin when they captured the EuroCup and isn’t shocked one bit as to how well the guard has played for Maccabi, “I’m not surprised. I saw him everyday with Darussafaka where he was the most electric players, hard working player. Everyday he came in with that focus and energy. Seeing him succeed and taking Maccabi and putting Maccabi on his back like he did when I was at Darussafaka, it’s not a surprise. I’m happy for him and I am very, very proud of him.”
This past summer, Eric represented his birth country Nigeria at the FIBA World Cup in China and the experience was an amazing one, “It meant a lot to me, a whole lot to me especially representing not only my country but also my family. My father and mother were Olympians and just being able to get to the World Cup and qualifying for the Olympics. I’m hoping to be an Olympian to and follow in their footsteps. But that as another amazing part of my life being able to represent Nigeria and the people of Nigeria.”
Finally, with the Coronavirus gripping the world, Eric had a message that he wanted to share about the situation that is paralyzing the world, “I think we should just listen to what the scientific people are saying. Take care of yourself, wash your hands, protect yourself from packed places and also don’t panic just do the right thing. If you’re sick or feel sick and you don’t know what it is, call the hotlines and stay at home so you can protect others. Don’t be selfish trying to go places and having fun while you’re sick.”