PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Eric Williams Jr. has quickly endeared himself to Duquesne basketball fans.
Three double-doubles in your first six games and a rolling highlight reel of high-flying dunks will have fans rocking your jersey in a hurry.
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The Michigan native has embraced Duquesne and the city of Pittsburgh but disagrees with locals on one tiny, little thing: Primanti Brothers is a no go.
“Not a fan,” Williams Jr. said of the famous Yinzer staple.
Everything else, though, in the Steel City has agreed with the 18-year old freshman, especially on the basketball court.
Through six games, he’s averaging 16 points and 9.7 rebounds—the second-best mark in the Atlantic 10, and he’s coming off arguably his most-complete performance of the season Monday night. Williams Jr. poured in a career-high 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and handed out three assists in the Dukes’ 86-61 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore. He took 14 shots and missed just five.
Young players might skip putting in extra work the next day following such a performance but not Williams Jr. He was working through shooting drills with head coach Keith Dambrot at the conclusion of Tuesday morning’s practice.
“I feel like the key is going to be how much better he can get,” Dambrot said of his freshman guard. “And that’s challenging him everyday in practice to be what he should be. He’s been good.”
Despite scoring 50 points in a high school game and leading his team to a state championship, Williams Jr. was under recruited. Dambrot swooped in last April after taking the job at Duquesne and secured a commitment. In order to turn a program around quickly, coaches need players of Williams Jr.’s caliber—an ultra-athletic wing who can impact the game in so many ways.
Williams Jr. credits his parents for shaping who he is on and off the court.
“They got me here,” Williams Jr. said. “Always staying on me with school because without school I don’t think I would be here. That’s the main thing that has stuck with me all my life.”
It’s a five-hour commute one-way from New Haven, Michigan, but his parents have made the trip three times already to see him play. He talks with his mother everyday, and both his parents are always honest about his performance after games.
“I think it’s good they give me constructive criticism,” Williams Jr. said.
Off the court, Williams Jr. enjoys his thinking and writing and philosophy classes. He’s yet to declare a major but admits the school’s academics are a lot stronger than he anticipated.
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“They’re harder classes for me, so just to do something I’ve never done in my life,” Williams Jr. said of his challenging schoolwork.
He spends a lot of his free time in the gym but has made friends outside of the basketball team, adding, “It’s great to have people I know besides basketball players.”
Among his teammates, Williams Jr. lists upperclassmen Renee Castro-Caneddy and Chas Brown as his favorites.
“They’re funny guys, and they tell me when I’m doing something wrong,” Williams Jr. said.
Castro-Caneddy and Brown must not have much to say lately, because Williams has done a lot right for the Dukes.