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The continuing education of Eric Devendorf

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Love him or hate him, Eric Devendorf is too busy climbing the coaching ladder and spreading positivity to pay much attention.

Big East Tournament: Louisville Cardinals v Syracuse Orange Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There are inspirational messages that read like posters found on a guidance counselor’s office walls. Yawn-inducers. Like something shared by your friend’s mom on Facebook that might as well have kittens grasping at branches, urging everyone to hang on for dear life but holding little meaning to anyone who scrolls right on past.

Then there are messages that actually might just inspire.

“Bringing positive energy into the room each day is a skill” coming from Eric Devendorf? Probably pretty shocking to see for anyone who watched the former fiery guard play college ball for the Syracuse Orange. From minute one, the brash baller from Bay City, Michigan didn’t dip his toe into the spotlight of major college hoops, he cannonball-ed in, chest pounding and trash talking the whole time.

For some, Devendorf was to college basketball as to what Razor Ramon at one point was to professional wrestling: The Bad Guy. From 2005 through 2009, Devendorf could ignite his teammates and opposing crowds like a lit match to gasoline with both his skills and his swagger. On your team, Devendorf was someone you’d ride with every time. On the other team, opponent’s student’s sections couldn’t wait to sling insults Devendorf’s way.

Eric Devendorf, college basketball player: loved or hated with nothing in between.

Now? Nearing a decade after his last game for Syracuse, jawing with others for the 31-year-old has (mostly) been replaced with motivating others and coaching others. Life post-college, which includes his coming back to SU to get his degree (no doubt a revelation to some) has led to a spiritual growth. Devendorf says he tweets positivity to his 25,000-plus followers to “use {the} platform ‘Cuse gave me for the better.” Through social media or by working in the community, wherever those communities might be, Devendorf wants to create helpful change.

That’s key, because before we can get to Eric Devendorf, aspiring coach, we need to cover Eric Devendorf, serious philanthropist.

Anyone who watched No. 23 in orange likely wouldn’t have imagined that kid with all that bravado would turn into the adult who recently helped pull in aid for the people of Flint, Michigan who are dealing with a major water crisis. Devendorf has also assisted several non-profit organizations since his playing days, be they in desperate need of funds, shoes for the less fortunate or if they simply need someone to lend some timely words to impressionable children. Tell that to fans of former Big East foes and they might faint. But Devendorf wants to now be known as something of a difference-maker for people needing a boost in life. “I feel that there are a lot of people who don’t believe in themselves,” Devendorf said, “and all they need is that one person to tell them differently, who may be able to change their life.”

A far cry for some who remember Devendorf’s jersey-poppin’ on the press tables at Madison Square Garden after he hit what was thought to be the game-winning shot against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament in 2009. Funny thing is, that basket would have led to a Syracuse upset of the high-powered Huskies had it not been ruled to have come after the buzzer. That tenth of second eventually set the stage for what is still considered one of the most epic Big East tourney games ever. The Orange and Huskies ended up playing a six-overtime just-off-Broadway smash hit down there in Manhattan. It’s interesting how Devendorf’s shot ultimately didn’t factor into the box score, yet remains one of the key moments of the game. It’s like that wrestling “heel” who doesn’t have to win the title belt to captivate the crowds.

Big East Tournament: Syracuse Orange v Connecticut Huskies
It didn’t count, but it’s not forgotten
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Through his entire Syracuse career Devendorf caught people’s eyes. He racked up 1,680 points, placing him 14th all time on the school’s scoring list. He was involved in some legendary games (see above), some tough seasons, and he wasn't without controversy—giving plenty of fodder for crowds in arenas not named the Carrier Dome. A potentially somewhat justified reaction. Who knows? Regardless, it’s all a part of the story, warts and all.

Devendorf left Syracuse following the ‘09 season despite having another year’s worth of eligibility, his Orange days thought to be done forever. From CNY, he would go on to play seven strong seasons overseas, globetrotting to destinations like Israel and Greece, while also making a couple of stops in what was then called the NBA D League. In the last few years, Devendorf has also became a staple of Pseudo Syracuse, Boeheim’s Army, the team named after the legendary SU head man and assembled of mostly Syracuse University products. It participates in the annual The Basketball Tournament, games that have provided a few classic Devendorf games and some classic extracurriculars, too.

“I have been through it so I can sort of give these guys the keys to success.”

Then he did something else a lot of hoops junkies who remember his fire on the court didn’t expect: Devendorf entered the world of coaching. “I knew I just wanted to be around the game, I wanted to help these guys get better,” Devendorf said about his desire to get on the sidelines. Starting in 2016, the one-time player for Jim Boeheim became assistant strength coach for Jim Boeheim, a position he held for the last two years.

Quite the dichotomy in roles, player and assistant coach. “It’s obviously totally different,” Devendorf explained the degrees of playing for Boeheim verses coaching with Boeheim. “Because in coaching, I am in the meetings before and after games, plus during the week, so I get to hear everything.” Players, meanwhile, hear what coach’s decide they should hear. There is a major similarity in that Boeheim gives players the same freedoms he gives his assistants. “He expects you to do your job, he doesn’t smother you.”

Scroll through his Twitter feed or just ask him and you’ll quickly find out Devendorf forever considers himself lucky to have his time at Syracuse University.

Good fortune that has now afforded Devendorf, practically an adopted son of Syracuse, to be able to leave and head back to his real home of Michigan. Last month, he joined the staff of, fittingly, the University of Detroit Mercy. It was a decision reached after discussions with Boeheim and the other SU coaches, and one that is viewed as “a step up” in coaching positions. Devendorf is now the special assistant to UDM head coach, Mike Davis—the one-time coach of Indiana, UAB and Texas Southern who is in his first year in Detroit.

Syracuse v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Devendorf is attempting to work his way up the ladder to eventually one day be head coach of his own program. He’s climbing after “soaking” up the knowledge dispensed by Boeheim, HOF. A never-ending resource is his former coach, someone who Devendorf still texts from time to time.

Who would have thought it, Eric Devendorf texting Boeheim asking questions about coaching?

Who would have thought it, Eric Devendorf working to try to tune out the negativity?

Some pretty major developments for Devendorf, the one-man motivational machine who doesn’t appear to want to slow down any time soon. As the man himself appropriately tweeted, he didn’t “come this far just to come this far.”