By Tom Ballato
Eric Devendorf is bringing his passion back to the court, but this time as a coach. After returning to his alma mater and spending the last two seasons on Jim Boeheim’s staff at Syracuse as an assistant strength coach, Devendorf left to become Special Assistant to the Head Coach at Detroit Mercy University. The former Syracuse standout, is providing energy and a work ethic to a young Detroit Mercy team.In 2005, Eric arrived to Syracuse as a five star, McDonalds All-American recruit from Oak Hill Academy. As a freshman he started 30 out of the team’s 35 games. He averaged 12.2 points per game as a freshman. His sophomore year, he made jump in performance averaging 14.8 points per game while recording an average of 4 assists per game.During his junior year, he played in 10 games and was averaging 17 points per game, before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. He qualified for a hardship waiver and was redshirted. He returned for his redshirt junior season and averaged 15.7 points per game. During the Big East Tournament, he hit a shot that is still is remembered today. It was during a sixth overtime game versus Connecticut, which Syracuse eventually won. The shot did not count because time had expired before he got the shot off.Eric made it work within Syracuse’s guard rotation that included Andy Rautins and Johnny Flynn, both had NBA talent and were drafted. Eric left Syracuse for a professional career after his redshirt junior season, forgoing his final year of eligibility. He went undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft, but went on to play in several countries overseas, including the NBA Developmental League. In 2016, he decided to end his playing career and begin the next chapter in coaching, at Syracuse. Devendorf returns to the court in the summer to play in The Basketball Tournament with Boeheim’s Army. Boeheim’s Army is a team filled with Syracuse alumni who come together just like old times and play to win $2 million dollars.
Devendorf has matured a lot since we last saw him in a Syracuse uniform. He was once one of college basketball’s most hated players. Trash talking and playing with a fiery attitude was a part of his game. The former Syracuse guard was also known for his scoring ability. Devendorf could put the ball in the cylinder night in and night out. He scored over 1,600 points at Syracuse and was a great three point shooter.His new role has landed him at Detroit Mercy University, where he started in 2018 and is thriving. His experience allows him to mentor and help young athletes. They have a scoring guard who is turning into a young star in Antoine Davis. Something Devendorf can relate too. Love him or hate him, Eric Devendorf was fun to watch at Syracuse!
How would you describe your time at Syracuse playing under coach Boeheim?
My time at Syracuse was amazing, playing for a hall of fame coach and getting the opportunity to play in front of 30,000 fans is amazing. I played on some real good teams my time there and with some very good players. I am super grateful for that. Syracuse basketball is a family!
What was your fondest moment at Syracuse?
Fondest moment would have to be the 6 OT game vs UConn. I still get asked about that ’til this day. Such an unreal game and being able to be a part of something like that is very special.
The Syracuse zone. What about the zone has made it so effective after all these years?
I think the zone is effective because coach is able to make little adjustments here and there depending on who we are playing and what type of players are out there. If they have more shooters or not. Maybe a high post threat. Whatever it is, coach is always able to tweak it to where it usually works in our favor. And obviously the players on the floor coach and his staff have done a great job of getting guys who are built for the zone, long and athletic guys. Guys who buy in and have some basketball awareness and sense out there.
You played this villain role at Syracuse. Trash talking was a big part of your game, but you also played with this fiery edge. How would you describe your career at Syracuse?
I would say I had a pretty good career at Syracuse. The teams I played on were always competitive and we always had great talent. Individual wise, I left it out on the floor every time, that’s what I pride myself on, playing with all my heart and never backing down.
Take us back to the Big East Tournament in 2009. Syracuse against UConn in the 6 overtime game. You hit the game winner as time expired, the referees ultimately waved it and you head to overtime. The game is an absolute dogfight and heads into 6 overtimes. You guys won the game, but what was it like to be part of such a special game?
Just like I said earlier, I get asked about that game ’til this day and it’s just very special to have been apart of that game. People who don’t even watch basketball know about that game! Having played a big role in the game and outcome just made it that much more special for me.
You left Syracuse with a year left of eligibility. After going undrafted, you played in the NBA G-League and overseas. Where did you play basketball overseas?
I had a crazy pro career all over the place, got hurt, had to sit out, and came back. Super grateful for all the experiences. I played in Turkey, Ukraine, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Israel, and been to a few others (countries), but just being able to see the world and meet people and learn their culture all while getting paid to play the game that I love to play was priceless. My mind opened up a lot more because of those journeys.
The past few years, you have played in The Basketball Tournament with Boeheim’s Army filled with Syracuse alum. How much fun is it to play again and play with Cuse alum? Do you plan to continue playing this summer?
Playing in the TBT with “The Army” brings back all kinds of memories. Being able to play with all my good friends and playing in front of all the fans is so awesome. No one does it and comes out and support like Cuse fans, just that experience again is awesome to have. Hopefully I can continue to play.
You came back to Syracuse in 2016 as an assistant. Now you a Special Assistant to the Head Coach at the University of Detroit Mercy. How has coaching been and how have you used your college experience to mentor young players?
Coach Boeheim gave me an awesome opportunity coming back on staff at Cuse. Being there for two years on staff was an unreal learning experience. To be able to learn from one of the greats is very humbling. Then being able to have another opportunity at Detroit Mercy under another great coach in coach Davis is unbelievable. Just thankful for the chance to learn from coach B and now coach Davis. I think what helps me a lot is being able to relate to the players, I was in their situation so I understand what they are going through. That helps me with teaching them and getting their attention on certain things. Just like they are learning from me, I am learning from them. They help me be a better coach. I’m looking forward to the continued learning process and growth in my coaching career.