Williams making a mark in NCAA ball

Eric Williams — a former Hope Mustang and a member of the Hope Secondary grad class of 2006 — is playing NCAA basketball, with a full-ride scholarshi

Former Hope Mustang Eric Williams is now playing NCAA ball for the Purple Eagles at Niagara University in western New York State. The 203cm

He’s living the dream in New York State.

Eric Williams — a former Hope Mustang and a member of the Hope Secondary grad class of 2006 — is playing NCAA basketball, with a full-ride scholarship at Niagara University, a Catholic university in Lewiston New York.

It’s Williams’ third year at the school but only his second year of league play, due to his being sidelined by an injury in the first season. NCAA rules allow him five years to complete four seasons of basketball, so after Williams graduates with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management this spring, he’ll start work on his MBA.

It’s pretty exciting for his proud mom, Teresa, who follows her son’s games from afar via internet radio, streamed through the PurpleEagles.com site.

“I listen to his games on internet radio because it’s so hard to watch the grainy internet TV,” said Mom on Monday.

“I met Todd Callen, the announcer, last year when I was out there and I developed a wonderful rapport with him. He knows I’m listening and that it’s the only way I’m going to hear about Eric. He always says ‘Eric Williams from Hope, British Columbia’ when he’s doing his play-by-play.”

Eric’s sister Nadine is living in Toronto and gets down for a few games a year, sending extra news home by e-mail or phone. His dad Hugh also heads east for couple of games each year.

Being so far away makes it tough when Mom hears about her son getting injured in a game.

“In the Sunday game against Siena College, they announced that Eric was injured and there was blood everywhere,” said Teresa. “I guess he got elbowed or something. I had e-mailed Eric a photo of how beautiful Mount Ogilvie looked on Sunday and he sent me a picture of his black eye and swollen nose!”

Niagara lost by two points, in what has so far been a season of mostly close losses and a handful of wins. They are 4-and-19 on the year, including 1-and-10 in conference play as of Sunday’s game.

“It’s about where they were predicted to be this season,” said Teresa. “They only have one senior on the team this year — as well as some injuries — but they should be very strong in Eric’s final year.

“The school has a superlative coaching staff,” added Teresa, a teacher at Coquihalla Elementary. “They’ve really worked with Eric.”

Williams and head coach Joe Mihalich spoke by phone on Friday, after the team’s practice.

A week earlier, Williams had played a career highlight game against Iona College, playing 36 of 40 minutes, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring 18 points.

“They have one of the top centers in the league, Michael Glover,” said Williams. “He was averaging 20 points per game and we held him to only 10. It was a close loss. Nip and tuck for most of the game.”

The Purple Eagles play in the Metro Atlantic Conference, which consists of 10 smaller schools in the New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland area. There are 340 teams and 31 conferences in the NCAA Division 1 — all with hopes of getting to the 68-team National Championships, otherwise known as “March Madness.” Niagara was there in 2005 and 2007.

“We’ve got nine more games in league play,” said Williams. “The league ends at the end of February, then the conference tournament begins. It’s single elimination.”

If the Purple Eagles want an easier time in the playoffs, they’ve got to get off the bottom of the standings, as the last-placed team has to face the top team in their first game. Until then, the team will be hitting the court most days for two hours of practice — plus a couple of sessions a week in the weight room.

“Eric played really well in the Iona game,” said coach Mihalich, who is in his 13th year at Niagara. “He’s a tough kid and he works hard… a terrific young man, who is on the verge of being more consistent.”