Pittsburgh, PA — When Duquesne men’s basketball senior forward Eric James went down with a knee injury during the team’s non-conference loss to Robert Morris earlier this season, only one thought crossed his mind.
“It was tough because I was frustrated, especially after seeing Jeremiah (Jones) get injured his senior year, and I was just hoping it wasn’t the same injury,” he said.
James ended up being able to walk on it and built himself back up to a regular role on Duquesne’s bench.
Saturday, James will be one of four seniors to be honored during the team’s senior day against Davidson.
“Eric James is the (senior) I am probably most proud of because he hasn’t gotten the gratification of playing, but his attitude has been phenomenal,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot said.
Dambrot’s reason for singling James out also may come from how he has balanced out the peaks and valleys to become a team player and an example others can look to in that respect.
“It’s honestly been tough but it’s been fun learning from the experience and building relationships with everybody,” James said. “I just can’t believe it went that fast. It was still a good learning experience.”
Coming to Duquesne & Breakthrough
When then Duquesne coach Jim Ferry and his staff set out to recruit James, they saw a forward with athleticism that played hard. James in turn saw a faster-paced, playground style offense which suited how he was accustomed to play and it was a match that worked for both sides.
James stated the first few weeks were rough but the transition was easier due to the offensive pace.
In his freshman season, James played in 24 games, scoring 4.6 points per game shooting 40.7% from the field.
For as long as he can remember, James has always had a hitch in his shot, working on it to the point that he became comfortable. There are some Duquesne fans who have compared his shot style to that of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, who also has a hitch in his shot, though the latter has experienced some streaky tendencies.
The comparison is one which gave James a pretty good laugh.
“No, I don’t think my shot is as bad as Lonzo,” he said.
During his sophomore season, James was asked to step up after Jeremiah Jones was lost for the season. James saw an increase in minutes and started 22 of the 34 games he appeared in.
James posted career-high averages of 9.1 points per game and a 47.4% clip from the field.
James came into his junior season was confidence after proving himself to be an important piece to Duquesne’s puzzle last season.
Unfortunately for James, he was unable to match his sophomore output.
“I came in ready, I had the experience from sophomore year,” he said. “I thought I was going to be ready to produce, I just didn’t.”
During his junior season, James saw the court in 22 games, playing 9.3 minutes on average, a sharp decrease from 25.6 minutes per game in his sophomore season.
Additionally, James shot 30.8% from the field, which to date remains a career low.
“I would say it was a little pressure and opportunity,” said James. “I didn’t have as much of a chance to show that I should play more minutes.”
Despite some tough times when he did see action, the year proved to be a valuable one in a different respect.
“It just taught me to keep fighting because you’re always going to go through something hard,” James said. “You just have to keep grinding and try to get through it. I try not to be selfish and kept rooting for the team. In the end I still wanted the team to be successful. I was just there to help the team no matter what I was asked to do.”
Duquesne has not experienced the joys which come with winning as much for decades, which includes James’s time on the team, but it was this idea of just grinning and bearing through these tough times that allowed him to push through.
This season is Dambrot’s first with the team, and from day one, the two have clearly formed a positive, respectful relationship.
“He’s always there for you and encourages you to keep grinding and working on your game,” said James. “He keeps pushing me and telling me not to give up. (His respect) means a lot because he’s a good guy and has worked with a lot of different people. He tells me not to change. He likes my character.”
Dambrot does not believe his team has peaked, but the team’s most recent losing streak, which is currently at a season-high five games, something which makes him feel for the seniors, James included, whom had experienced some winning, only to be brought down a bit by this skid.
Despite the team’s recent skid, James is just as optimistic as everyone else that Dambrot will win at Duquesne.
“I can tell that his system is going to help Duquesne in the long run, not even in the long run it helped us this year and it will help next year.” he said.
Duquesne fans can and will look at James’s four years but ultimately the already humble James has grown as a person for years to come and that can be viewed as what is most important as he prepares to take the next steps in life.
“It just taught me to keep fighting because you’re always going to go through something hard,: James said. “You just have to keep grinding and try to get through it.”
As far as advise to future Duquesne men’s basketball players goes, not many are more qualified to give tips than James who has been through just about every emotion while wearing a Dukes uniform.
“There always will be ups and downs, just keep grinding because in the end it will help you,” he said.
Photo credit: Duquesne Athletics