You look up when talking with Eric Ferguson, way up, and ask the 6-foot-7, 205-pound basketball player if it’s true that his mother, Estella “Stella” Washington Roberson and his Georgia Southern head coach, Charlton “C.Y.” Young, chose GSU for him to attend.
“Yes, sir,” Ferguson, 22, says before grinning. “I wasn’t really thinking about GSU.”
The sophomore forward said he turned down potential scholarship offers from Louisville, Providence, Massachusetts, West Virginia “and a lot of other schools” to play for GSU.
Ferguson’s story reads like a Hollywood script.
He was born Oct. 4, 1989, in Statesboro. He was a basketball star at Statesboro High School.
His mother is a Georgia Southern graduate.
His father, Calvester, played basketball for two seasons at Georgia Southern and was a third-team All-Trans-America Athletic Conference selection in 1990-91. Calvester, a 6-foot-10, 239-pound center, plays professional basketball for Penarol Tala in Argentina.
And Ferguson’s godfather is Young, who was Calvester’s roommate when they played at Georgia Southern.
Soon after GSU hired Young on April 9, 2009, following four seasons as an assistant at Georgia Tech, he called his godson.
“As soon as C.Y. got the job he called me,” Ferguson said. “He didn’t give me any option. He was like, ‘You’re coming to Georgia Southern.’”
Ferguson was attending The Winchendon School, a college preparatory school in Winchendon, Mass. He was weighing scholarship offers from numerous colleges, but followed the advice of Washington Roberson and Young, and enrolled at GSU in 2010.
“He and I get into it a bunch because he’s my godson,” Young said. “He’s like my blood. It’s a very difficult relationship. I just know in my heart that he can be one of the best players in the country, not just in the Southern Conference.
“His mama, Stella Washington, and I made the decision for him to come with me because we thought that we could showcase him and get him to be one of the top players in the country. And I’m talking about the way Jimmer Fredette was for BYU … the way Stephen Curry was for Davidson. But he’s got some growing to do and some maturing to do to get there.”
“With Eric, we just have to do a better job of keeping him focused and keeping him locked in, and getting him to play with energy at all times.”
Ferguson is considered a legitimate NBA prospect by many experts, but he will be the first to admit that he has lots of work to do. Ferguson hungers to develop his game and achieve his goal of playing in the NBA.
“Coach Young has given me the opportunity to have an all-around game,” Ferguson said. “He’s developing me all-around. When I first came here, I played guard so I didn’t want to play the post (forward).
“But if you’re going to play in the NBA you have to be able to play all spots, and play defense on bigger people. He’s just developing me as a player, and when I get to the NBA or overseas or wherever I go, I’ll be ready for any position.”
As a GSU freshman, Ferguson started in 26 of the 31 games in which he played and averaged 12 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He was a consensus All-SoCon Freshman Team selection.
As a sophomore, Ferguson leads GSU in scoring (15.4 ppg.), rebounds (7.2 pg.), field goal attempts (11.3 pg.), field goals made (6.4 pg.), free-throw attempts (4.1 pg.), steals (1.6 pg.), blocked shots (1.2 pg.) and fouls (3.3 pg).
Ferguson will lead GSU (11-12 overall, 9-4 SoCon) against Wofford (15-10, 8-5 SoCon) in a key conference showdown at 7 tonight at Hanner Fieldhouse. GSU is in second place in the SoCon’s South Division, while Wofford is in third place.
Wofford, like all of GSU’s opponents, must design a game plan to stop or at least limit Ferguson. Doing so is difficult because of his size, athleticism and versatility. Ferguson can play all five positions on the court. He is perhaps best known for his ferocious dunks.
GSU’s sports information department is attempting to secure an invitation for Ferguson to participate in the State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships in New Orleans. The event will be televised at 9 p.m. March 29 on ESPN. GSU has posted some of Ferguson’s dunks from GSU games on Facebook.com/collegeslam.
In addition to being able to attack the basket, Ferguson can shoot the 3-pointer, particularly when a teammate penetrates to the basket and passes the ball out to him.
“We feel comfortable with Eric taking wide open, step one-two, inside-outside 3s,” Young said. “When Eric struggles shooting the ball is when he takes shots not in rhythm and not in inside-out (sequence). But when he gets an inside-out 3, he can step into it and shoot it.
“We don’t like him taking them off the dribble because he’s such a dynamic talent that he should be attacking the paint. And when people back off of him and he has the ball, they’re a sitting duck so he should attack them. But when he gets a wide open inside-outside 3, he needs to stroke it.”
Ferguson said Young’s guidance, and being able to play in front of his family and friends, were important selling points that Young and Washington Roberson used to convince him to return to Statesboro.
“He’s somebody I can just trust and, basically, put my career in his hands to help me get better and pursue my dreams, and allow me to just work hard and develop a great work ethic,” Ferguson said of Young. “It works as a benefit because I really can’t do wrong. Everybody is behind me when I do bad or when I do good. I’m just one of the lucky ones who is able to play at home and have the support from everybody in the community. I’m blessed to be able to do that.”
Ferguson, who is majoring in sport management, admits it is fun to dream about leaving GSU early for the NBA, but he said he is in no rush.
“It crosses my mind sometimes, but I just go out here and just play,” he said. “I don’t even try to worry about it. I just let the NBA or (playing) overseas wait, and just focus on the moment because I enjoy college. If it was time to go (pro), I guess I would have a conversation with my mom.
“We just want to come out and compete every night. Our goal is to win the SoCon and be able to make a run in the (NCAA) tournament.”
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.