Eric Devendorf fulfills late father’s wish in 1st season on Syracuse basketball staff

first_img Published on February 21, 2017 at 10:40 pm Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidman Eric Devendorf charged onto the court, his navy blue sport coat, red tie and light blue button-down shirt all still intact. His dress shoes didn’t slow him down, his right arm wrapping Tyus Battle in a headlock as the team mobbed around them. The freshman had just hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Clemson by one on Feb. 7, and Devendorf was the only coach swarming in front of Syracuse’s bench.Hundreds of miles away, Jill Devendorf, Eric’s older sister by two years, watched the game on television at home in Michigan. When Battle hit the corner 3, she pulled up a YouTube video to show her daughter. A 21-year-old Eric at Madison Square Garden flashed on the screen, hitting the infamous shot that didn’t count at the end of regulation before six overtimes followed in the 2009 Big East tournament quarterfinal against Connecticut.“Uncle Eric made a similar shot,” Jill explained to her daughter, “but it didn’t count.”“I didn’t know my Uncle Eric was so awesome,” her daughter responded.For Devendorf, moments like those after Battle’s heroics resurrect the itch to be on the floor at Littlejohn Coliseum or MSG or any arena in the country, rather than the second row of SU’s bench in coach’s attire. There, where Devendorf sits as the assistant strength coach, is where the former SU star’s career has come full circle in his first season on Syracuse’s staff.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textCourtesy of Cindy DevendorfIt’s bittersweet for the Devendorf family. Curt Devendorf lost his battle with cancer on Jan. 13, 2016. He introduced Eric to basketball even though he never played collegiately or professionally, putting a Spalding ball in his only son’s hand at a young age in their Bay City, Michigan, driveway. Before Curt’s health deteriorated, he wished for Eric to one day join the staff that gave him his start. Wednesday would’ve been Curt’s 65th birthday.“Curt was out there in the driveway with him all the time, either fetching balls or throwing to him or playing horse since he was 3 years old,” said Cindy Devendorf, Eric’s mother. “… He’d always say, ‘Man it’d be so nice if E could get on with that coaching staff. That would be so cool.’ That’s the sad part, that he isn’t around to be able to see that because he would be very, very proud of him.”When Curt gave Eric his first basketball, he couldn’t put it down. Casual driveway shooting sessions turned into endless hours smacking leather against pavement before the sun rose. The Devendorf’s neighbors even asked if Eric could hold off practicing until at least 6 a.m. On Jill and Eric’s walk to elementary school that spanned several blocks, Eric kept palm to ball the whole way. Then the same at recess. In high school, a friend joked with Eric that he was going to ask his Spalding to a school dance. All that stemmed from Curt.Devendorf’s career at Syracuse twisted through stardom, controversy and fatherhood. In December 2008, the University Appeals Board suspended Devendorf for an altercation with a female student in which he was found responsible for violating the SU student code of conduct for “Harassment … beyond the bounds of protected free speech.” Devendorf missed two games while completing the required 40 hours of community service.He spent four seasons at Syracuse — one a redshirt year due to a torn ACL — and currently sits 14th on the program’s all-time scoring list after averaging 14.5 points per game over his career. But the biggest moment of Devendorf’s college years didn’t have anything to do with basketball. He became a father while still in school. Only so much that Curt taught his son could prepare Eric to become a dad 13 years younger than his own father did.“I was in basketball mode, too, man,” Devendorf said. “The father thing was new to me. I definitely matured as a person and got my priorities in order. Back then, not so much.”The stress mounted when Devendorf’s NBA D-League stint became an overseas career that saw him play in eight foreign countries over seven years. Only during spurts in New Zealand and Australia did Devendorf’s daughters, Madelyn, now 8, and Miranda, now 6, join him. When they were home in Syracuse, where they’ve lived since birth with their mother and Devendorf’s current girlfriend, Fatriyah, Devendorf found about 30 minutes every day to FaceTime them.Devendorf has Madelyn’s initials tattooed on his lower neck. Becoming a father, the family said, marked the turning point in his life. It’s mainly because of Madelyn and Miranda why he passed up more years as a professional basketball player to start his career as a coach. He thinks he could play professionally for another five or six years and had the option to return to New Zealand where he played last season.Devendorf had spent multiple summers playfully reminding Jim Boeheim, Mike Hopkins and Gerry McNamara that he was always available. When Boeheim presented him an opportunity this past summer to finally join his staff, Devendorf couldn’t pass it up.Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer“Obviously my two daughters are here so being away from them for eight months is pretty tough. It’s overdue for me to be here,” Devendorf said. “It’s a pretty critical age right now that they’re at. Being able to be here … it’s the second best thing to playing.”For Devendorf, coaching is more than what his official title suggests. Instead of simply aiding players in the weight room, he sweats out pre-practice one-on-one sessions with Taurean Thompson. He drills John Gillon, Tyus Battle and Frank Howard on how to drive and kick. He counsels players on how to carry themselves as a college athlete in the spotlight, because he’s learned firsthand.There are times when Devendorf wants to strap on a jersey and light it up from deep. That will come naturally while he’s watching Syracuse warm up, as he did earlier this season at MSG sitting just feet from where he hit that shot in 2009. But this is a new chapter in his life, and he’s become accustomed to giving to others as so many in this city have to him.“He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy,” Boeheim said, “and it’s good to have that attitude around.”When Cindy realized Curt wouldn’t live for much longer, she called Eric, then playing in the Philippines, and he flew home to Michigan to be with his father.Curt saw Eric graduate from SU in May 2015, but he didn’t see him chase Madelyn and Miranda around the Philadelphia University practice gym when playing for Boeheim’s Army this past summer. He saw Eric sit on the Syracuse bench as a player but didn’t see him there in his first game as a coach. He saw Eric run out of the Carrier Dome tunnel but didn’t see Madelyn dangling over the railing last month, screaming “Daddy!” and hugging Eric as he emerged from the tunnel with other coaches.“Everything that he’s done for me,” Devendorf said, “it’s come to fruition, right here in front of me.”Right in front of Devendorf, when he says that, is a full gym in the Carmelo K. Anthony Center. He’s sweating after drilling Thompson, soon to rest on a stationary bike and observe practice with his feet up. This is where it all started for Devendorf, his college career and fatherhood.Now he’s back, a new Eric Devendorf balancing fatherhood and basketball again in Syracuse, exactly as his father wished.“It kind of felt like everything came full circle,” Jill said. “He’s been through a lot and he’s gone through a lot … for Eric to get that position, that was what my dad had dreamed of.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img