Waikato Pistons sign troublesome talent

BY IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 12:23 09/02/2010
New Waikato Pistons signing Eric Devendorf.
Reuters
COLLEGE STAR: New Waikato Pistons signing Eric Devendorf celebrates after he scores the game winning shot for Syracuse Orange against the Georgetown Hoyas in the final moments of their Big East basketball tournament semifinal game in New York's Madison Square Garden in 2006.

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The new Waikato Pistons import is a tattooed trash-talker with a history of off-court woes who may be the league's best player in recent history.

The two-times defending NBL champions have signed former US college star Eric Devendorf to play point guard for the upcoming season.

The 1.93m guard had an outstanding college career at Syracuse University and will be one of the best-credentialled imports to play in New Zealand's National Basketball League.

But he won't get off the plane here without bringing some baggage.

Devendorf was suspended at Syracuse in late 2008 for allegedly striking a female student over a traffic incident and had to serve 40 hours' community service. He was already on disciplinary probation at the university from another incident.

His off-court behaviour raised the ire of college basketball fans, with Devendorf a constant target last year on various websites.

"The neck tattoos don't help, nor does the endless preening after three-pointers," wrote one website contributor.

"The word punk definitely applies."

Pistons boss John Davey said the organisation was aware of Devendorf's off-court problems.

"When we did our homework I baulked about it and so did [Pistons coach] Dean [Vickerman]," Davey said.

"But we talked to Eric, his agent, a number of coaches and people and we're happy with the assurances we got over the incident."

Devendorf was a standout performer at Syracuse, one of the top US college basketball programmes, for three seasons.

The Michigan native averaged 12 points per game in his freshman year and lifted that mark to 15 points and four assists per game the following season.

He was leading all scorers for Syracuse after 10 games the next season with 17 points and four assists per game but he tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and was ruled out for the rest of the season.

Last year, Devendorf declared himself eligible for the NBA draft but wasn't picked up, ruling him ineligible for his senior year at Syracuse. He recently spent two weeks in the National Basketball Development League with the Reno Bighorns.

Davey said Devendorf was a similar type of player to former star Pistons import Jason Crowe who would thrill NBL crowds.

"Eric's a fantastic shooter who can also run the floor and take the ball to the hoop," Davey said.

"He's not afraid to exchange a few verbals with opposing players and will be the kind of player who draws people to watch."

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Devendorf played point guard in his freshman year at Syracuse but shifted to shooting guard when Jonny Flynn was installed as their side's chief ball-handler. Flynn was chosen sixth in last season's NBA draft and now starts for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The import is likely to form an impressive starting five for the Pistons with shooting guard Gerard Bowden, small forward Thomas Abercrombie, power forward Tony Ronaldson and centre Alex Pledger when the NBL tips off on March 4.

- Waikato Times

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