From Port Huron playgrounds to the Sweet 16: Eric Williams and the people who helped him get there

A dream is similar to a flower. Each of them are beautiful when in bloom, but it's what happens before the eyes ever see its splendor that makes them possible. Without the proper nurturing and care, a dream can wither and die, just as a flower does. Let’s take a look at how a mother’s love and the surrounding community can cause a child’s dream to grow and blossom just as the flower does.

The mother in this story is Clarice Williams, a former resident of Port Huron. Her son is Eric Williams Jr., forward for the University of Oregon Ducks, an NCAA men's basketball team. If you are a fan of college basketball, you understand the significance of having a hometown basketball star go on to compete on such a huge stage as the 2021 NCAA March Madness tournament.

A mother’s touch

Moving from Ohio back in 1986, Clarice found her way to Port Huron where she would eventually give birth to her future basketball star Eric. It was here where Eric began his basketball career with his mom enrolling him in the Biddy Basketball League at the YMCA.

“Eric was kind of chunky. When he was four he looked like he was about five or six — he was kind of bigger than most of the kids his age,” says Clarice. Over time she noticed that her little boy had quite the passion for his newfound sport. “Each year he just got better and better, he just would not put that ball down. So we just kept going with it, putting him in different leagues.”

It was this observance and nurturing of her son’s talent that pushed and urged him into greatness. As a child, Clarice describes Eric as a good kid, humble, who always got good grades in school. He’s always listened to what his parents have told him, and to this day, at the age of 21, Eric still has a high regard for his mother’s advice and opinion on certain matters. “I remember a few years back, he had said, ‘Mom, I was thinking about getting a tattoo.’ He never did get one and I’m kind of happy about that,” says Clarice.

Prior to Eric going off to the University of Oregon to compete in the NCAA, he was a star player at the high schools he attended: St. Clair and New Haven. At New Haven High School, Eric would go on to not only be the leading scorer for his team, but also won multiple individual awards as well. This led them to winning the state title, only the second Macomb County boys basketball team to do so. As a senior, Eric averaged 20.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 3.5 steals per game.

Before making it to Oregon and the March Madness tournament, Eric spent his first two years of college at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Here, Eric would go on to rack up numerous achievements on the court for the Duquesne Dukes. As a freshman, Eric hit nine three-pointers in a game, which was a school record. He was named A-10 Rookie of the Week four times. Eric also set single game records for a freshman with 34 points in one game and 16 rebounds in another.

Working hard, staying aggressive

Eric Williams Jr. has been a key player coming off of the bench for the Ducks, averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists for the 2021 season.Clarice has always been in her son’s corner, encouraging him and steering him to those who she felt would help nurture and develop Eric’s talent, just as she has done over the years. One of Eric's early coaches, Clifford Thomason, Port Huron resident and Executive Director of the Athletic Factory, spoke on his time coaching and training him.

“My first wife used to babysit for Eric when he was very little. As he got older, I began working with him in the fourth grade. Even back then he was playing with the sixth graders. He’s always had a passion for basketball,” Thomason says.

”I'd describe him like a bull seeing red. When he saw the basketball he was always drawn to it, always aggressive, never backed down from anyone no matter how big you were.”

Some players have talent, but are not very aggressive. In Eric’s case, not only did he have skills, but he was aggressive as well — and sometimes a bit too aggressive, according to Thomason. “At times I’d have to say hey you're being a little too aggressive, you have to share the ball. He’s just always been that dominant type of person that wanted to take the last shot, wanted to be the person that made the play,” says Thomason. It’s a trait possessed by some of the top NBA players, such as the late Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

Another of the coaches and mentors to Eric was Wendell Green Sr., director of the Michigan Playmakers basketball program based out of the Detroit area. Green met Eric in his freshman year of high school, where he played with the Playmakers his entire high school career.

“His work ethic was one of the things I noticed most about Eric. He was always a sponge when it came to learning the game,” Green says. “I never thought I’d see Eric playing in the Sweet 16 [and March Madness] Tournament, but it doesn't surprise me. He’s always been a hard worker.”

After two years at Duquesne University, Eric then transferred to the University of Oregon. He was red-shirted his first year but is now on the roster and playing actively. The 6’6”, 214 lbs. Eric Williams Jr. has been a key player coming off of the bench for the Ducks, averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists this past season. Unfortunately, the No. 7 seed Ducks and their 2021 season came to an end on Sunday, March 28, having been defeated by the No. 6 seed USC Trojans, 82-68. 

All in all, Eric Williams Jr., with all of his natural talent and determination, will surely go on to greater success, just as he has his entire basketball career. And knowing that his mom always has his back will surely continue to make his dreams blossom into reality.
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