The following feature article on former Bridgewater basketball standout Ricky Eaterling was written by German sportswriter Moritz Korff.
It was just another regular game. Ricky Easterling dropped 39 points on ASC Theresianum Mainz to lead his TV Saarlouis team to a 104-103 overtime win last weekend - the 10th W of the season for the Royals.
If you are known as a big time scorer, 39 points might remain almost unnoticed. They shouldn't. But basketball fans who have been following Easterling since he started his overseas career in 2006, are used to it. In the first meeting with Mainz earlier this season the Baltimore, Md., native put up 47 points on 20-for-28 shooting. In early February he exploded with 48 points against the Schwenningen Panthers and in 2008 he even scored 56 points to guide his team past Hanau and secured his team a spot in the 1. Regionalliga South-West. Ricky Easterling can score the basketball.
In his first RLSW season (2008-09) he averaged 28 points per contest, followed by 32.3 ppg in 2009-10. During this past campaign he had to share scoring duties with Mensah Taylor, but still chipped in with close to 24 points a game.
This year it's all Easterling again. With an average of 33.7 points an encounter he is exactly 20 points ahead of Hari Mujkanovic, the second leading scorer on the Royals' squad. The question is: Where does his firepower stem from?
"College is when I think I developed my scoring mentality. My college coach came to me after my freshmen year and told me that he likes how I play, because I contributed to the team in multiple ways. But we had a All-American on our team that was graduating, who took care of most of the scoring responsibilities. So with him being gone, he needed for me to be the main offensive treat for the team in order for us to be successful. From that point on I concentrated on becoming a big scoring threat, and this role has followed me to this day," Easterling says.
Back in his college days at NCAA Division III school Bridgewater College he also found out that waiting behind the three-point line and and lighting it up from long range wouldn't be his desired style of play. Though shooting a descent percentage from beyond the arc (36 percent on 49-of-136) during his NCAA career) for the Eagles, nowadays the vast majority of his scoring will happen inside the half-circle. Easterling has collected 741 points this season with only 21 of them from three-point territory.
"With my style of play I am not looking to shoot a three-pointer unless I have to. I am able to use my abilities to find openings in the mid-range area of the court, where I am most effective shooting the ball," he explains.
Over the years, the opposing teams have worked out tons of defensive sets and strategies to keep him in check. But Easterling always seems to find a way. In the course of this current season he only scored less than 20 points once, but still managed to finish this particular game with 16.
"We have a great coach by the name of Chris Cummings, so we as a team are aware of the situation that teams might come out and double team me. In practice we prepare ourselves to be ready for this situation. So in the game, me and my teammates are able to get me where I need to be to score for our team," said Easterling
Obviously his ability to put the ball through the hoop can't be denied, but did you know that Easterling also dishes out 4.5 assists per contest? Not to mention his 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals a game: "I would like people to look at me as a all around player, because for my team I score, distribute the ball to others, rebound, and contribute on the defensive end by forcing turnovers and making stops. But to single out a single part of the game where I think I do not get enough credit for is my passing. In previous years as well as this year I am at the top of the league in assists. I also spend a lot of time in practice concentrating on my passing. So in games I can create oppurtunities for my teammates to score easy baskets. Chris is often telling me that the scoring part of my game is OK, but in order to become a better player I must improve on other areas of my game," Easterling said.
Five years in Saarlouis and five years with Coach Chris Cummings. The native of New York was a long time professional basketball player in Europe himself and brought Easterling to the small town near the French border, when he took over as the head coach of the Royals. While working with Coach Cummings is one reason for Easterling to remain loyal to the club for so many years, there are some others as well.
"I have been given offers to play for other teams in higher leagues, but none of these offers have been good enough to make me leave the great situation I have in Saarlouis," Easterling said. "Even though the city is small, there are many things to do to keep me busy on my down time. Saarlouis is a beautiful city and the Altstadt is amazing. When the weather is nice many people are in the Altstadt, sitting outside, having lunch or just enjoying the sun. I would not mind coming back to Saarlouis for a sixth season. I have really enjoyed these five years, so why not come back for a sixth."
While the Royals were close to earning promotion to the 2. Bundesliga Pro B last season and finished the RLSW in second place, things have gotten tougher this time around. Standing at a record of 10-13 the Saarlouis team has slipped from previous heights:
"We lost many players from last year's team because of the new foreigner rule. So we had to find a new way of doing things on the court, because of the personnel change. It has been a bumpy road this season for us but I think we finally understand what we need to do individually and collectively in order to succeed as a team," Easterling said.
It looks like Easterling might be up to some more high scoring affairs this season...