Updated: Feb 17
While I am a firm believer in the old rule in college recruiting that you are who recruits you. However, we all know that there are exceptions to every rule. Meet the exception to the rule in the class of 2020 High School recruiting, Eric Gaines. Eric is a 6'2, 160 pound Point Guard out of Lithonia High School, in Lithonia Georgia.
I view Eric as something of an anomaly in High School basketball. With there being so many scouts, writers, media outlets and, camera phones at every game, it is hard to understand why he is not more sought after. In my opinion, he screams High Major recruit. He is athletic, long, has a great feel for the game, can handle the ball, can shoot it off the dribble or the catch, can finish in the lane with traffic. Defensively, he’s great playing the passing lanes for steals, he can contain smaller guards and disrupt bigger guards with his length. The only real knock on him is he's a little on the skinny side. His pluses definitely out weigh his minuses.
While I understand that it is difficult to precisely determine a 17 or 18-year-olds basketball destiny, it is my job to identify high-level basketball talent and Eric is a high-level talent. I also understand that the Point Guard position is widely one of the toughest positions to predict success with absolute certainty; but I'm am certain that Eric is among the best in the class of 2020. Eric is not a late bloomer or what you'd call a sleeper, he has simply been overlooked. It is not a new story, it is written over and over year after year. I won't mention names but there was a player recently drafted number 2nd in the NBA draft. Who's recruitment story is very similar to Eric's, I am not saying they're the same but would it be that hard to believe we all got it wrong again?
I first saw Eric on Nov 24, 2018, at the Under Armour Hard in the Paint tournament in Atlanta, GA. I was looking down on the court from the hospitality room as his game against Tri-Cities tipped off and a Division I assistant coach leaned over and asked me if I'd seen the kid from Lithonia play yet? I replied that I had not, he said you're in for a treat and walked away. As the game started Eric didn't disappoint, he seemed to be everywhere on the court. He got to paint at will, shot it off the dribble from the 3 point line, jump the passing lanes for breakaway steals and he defended on the perimeter. I was blown away at what he could do on the court especially against Tri-Cities who was loaded with guard talent.
I would see him again a few months later on April 27, 2019, when he laced them up for Team United at the Nike EYBL Session 1 in Atlanta against The Family. The Family is your typical EYBL team, they simply boast a roster of at least 10 DI basketball players & 2 DI football players. During this game, Eric was one of the best players on the court, he finished the game with 22 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 1 turnover. He did all of this while out playing Jalen Terry, who is currently ranked 81 on the ESPN top 100 and heading to play for Oregon next season. After that game, I felt Eric was on his way to having a breakout summer. Unfortunately, a leg injury with end his EYBL season prematurely, but he did post averages of 21ppg, 3.3rpg, 4apg, 3spg & 1.7topg all while shooting 44 FG%, 90 FT% & 39.1 3P%.
Before sitting down with him for this Q&A, I saw him twice in December of 2020. To my surprise, he'd gotten better, he was very explosive in the open court, displayed elite vision finding teammates for easy layups and seemed to be getting off the ground quicker and higher than before. This is around the time I along with a few other sound basketball minds started making comparisons to Ja Morant. Not only because of his under-recruitment but also, his slight frame, elite athleticism, and explosiveness in the open court. His physical attributes were on full display when he squared off against Grayson HS who is currently ranked as the number 4 team in the country by Max Preps. Grayson has the most talented team in the state of Georgia top to bottom in my opinion, but the best player on the court that night was Eric Gaines.
Eric did everything during this game, he got downhill in PnR action, finished at the rim with contact, display elite shot-making ability behind the 3 point line off the dribble. And showcased his much-improved athleticism as he drove the lane and almost blew the roof off the gym with a monster dunk attempt. Sitting below that basket was Vanderbilt Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse he seemed to be completely shocked by what Eric attempted.
Now to my conversation with C/O 2020 Point Guard Eric Gaines in Q&A form:
Q: Tell me about your upbringing, are you from Lithonia originally?
A: No, I'm originally from Camden, NJ. I moved down here when I was about 5 and we've been staying out here ever since.
Q: So tell what your family life is like, who's your support system?
A: My Mom, Dad, Brother, and Grandma. I live with my Mom, Dad, and Brother.
Q: Is your brother older or younger?
A: Older, he's 26.
Q: Tell what life is like in the Gaines household?
A: Everybody is doing their own thing. My older brother is working, he's probably moving out soon. Me, I'm in school but when I'm home I'm probably with my girlfriend playing the game. My mom works at a law firm and my dad, he's a truck driver. So he's on the road a lot but when he comes home I spend a lot of time with him.
Q: So what games do you play typically?
A: 2K and Call of Duty.
Q: What game are you best at?
Q: So I know you played for Team United this past summer and the summer before you were with Atlanta Xpress. What made you make the switch?
A: On Atlanta Xpress, I'm not gonna say I wasn't getting as much playing time. I just needed more exposer, so I had to go to Nike. And, that was the best decision I made. I had the option to play for Team United, A.O.T., and Georgia Stars. I picked Team United because I felt comfortable with them.
Q: What do you think the competition level was like between UA vs. EYBL, was there a difference?
A: It's way different! The competition was more elite, everybody is "up there". I not gonna say you can't be the best player on your team but everybody can go.
Q: Do you have anybody you compare your game to?
A: I compare my game to KD (Kevin Durant). That's my favorite player and I'm lanky just like him.
Q: What do you like most about your game?
A: I think I can beat anybody off the dribble, so that's one of them. And getting to my spots and finding my teammates.
Q: Where are those spots on the court?
A: The hole, just getting in the paint. If I get to the paint I can
dish it off or shoot.
Q: What do you think you need to work on in your game?
A: My off the dribble pull-ups, I can get to the spot but I know I'm not gonna always be able to get it out. Let's say the defender is about 6'5 or 6'6, sometimes I can jump over them but when I go to college I'm not gonna always be able to do that. So that's something I think I need to work on.
Q: What motivates you in basketball?
A: It's just the hunger, I've been playing basketball all my life and I'm trying to get somewhere.
Q: Has there been any adversity that you've faced off the court?
A: Off the court my surgery, I had to have surgery over the summer. I got hurt during the first EYBL Session and I couldn't play the rest of the summer.
Q: What did you have surgery on?
A: My shin, I had to get a rod through it. I had a stress fracture.
Q: What about adversity on the court?
Q: What are your goals for the rest of the season and moving forward?
A: The goal for this season is to just get a state championship.
Moving on, picking the best school for me.
Q: What are the schools that have offered you or showed interest?
A: Houston, Georgia State, Nebraska, Middle Tennessee, TCU, and Washington State & Georgetown just offered.
Q: What are your grades like?
A: My grades are good, this past semester I had 2 A's and a B. So I had like a 3.6. I only have 4 classes left.
Q: Tell me something people don't know about you?
A: When they talk about my character, I guess when I'm on the court I'm really into the game. So I get frustrated if I do something wrong or my teammates mess up. But, I'm actually a good kid! I don't know why people say things like my attitude is bad and stuff like that. I'm actually a good kid.
Q: Your not out here getting in trouble and stuff?
A: I'm not like that, I guess my image but I'm not like that.
BTL: I'm happy to hear you say that because it sucks to get pre-judged. When people who don't know you make assumptions.
EG: It really does. Like the folks around me, you can ask them. They'll tell you I'm a good kid. I don't feed into the drama and I don't care what folks say about me. I just move on.
Q: Okay last question. Would you rather hit a game-winning shot at home or on the road and tell me why?
A: I'll say at home because I'm at home and the crowd probably gonna run on the court and everybody gonna be involved. But, away too because of the crowd too. Once I hit the shot I can talk my smack, and they gotta shut up.
In conclusion, one of the reasons I started this company was to help change the narrative regarding the kids that look like me and have grown up with similar upbringings. I have to say that I believe Eric Gaines has a bright future and I wouldn't be surprised if we see him shaking Adam Silver's hand one day. I'm happy to say that a few other national outlets agree with me in regards to his true talent. As of recently Eric has jumped into the Top 100 of both Rivals & 247 Sports and I have him in our BTL Sports Top 100 as well. I encourage Eric to keep the same mentality that has gotten him this far, keep your circle tight and when you step in-between the lines make sure they remember your name!
Until next time...