Sports

Eric Houston Named Head Coach

“Work hard, stay humble”—these are the first words you read when you walk into Coach Houston’s office. This short, simple phrase, spelled out on a small, handmade sign with letters clipped from a magazine, perfectly captures how Eric Houston worked his way up to become the new head coach of the Eastern Women’s Basketball Team.

Eastern University has been a part of Houston’s life since 2002, when he transferred to the school as an undergraduate student. He grew up nearby in West Philadelphia, where he played basketball as a kid. He did not learn to play basketball on a shiny, wood floor or at a five-star clinic; he merely picked it up on the playgrounds in West Philly. “You learn so many things about the game of basketball on the playground,” Houston recalls with a smile, “just about being tougher and being a competitor. I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I think it was awesome for me to grow up in that environment.”

It was not until his junior year at Overbrook High School that Houston joined the school’s basketball team, and even then, he only played on the junior varsity team. His senior year he was part of the varsity team, but still Houston was not satisfied. “I was good, but not good enough,” he says. The game of basketball was booming in the ‘90s during Houston’s high school career. The popularity of the sport made it difficult to stand out, and even harder still to be recruited by a college coach. These circumstances, as well as poor grades, led Houston to take a year off after high school and figure out what he wanted to do.

“I was a lost kid,” he admits, although he shows no sign of disappointment or regret. Houston looks at every moment of his life as an opportunity, and his year off after high school was only preparing him for the rest of his life. Houston comes from humble beginnings, and there is nothing about it he takes for granted.

Houston was eventually recruited by West Virginia State University, a NCAA Division II school, where he struggled as a student-athlete with poor grades. He told his mom that he wanted to transfer to a school back home, and she gave him an ultimatum: get your grades up, and then you can come home. “It’s amazing what you can do with that kind of motivation,” Houston remarks. His mother’s love pushed him to focus on his school work, and eventually he found himself transferring to Eastern University.

At Eastern, Houston played three years of collegiate basketball. He admits that when he transferred, he didn’t know EU was a Christian school until he stepped foot on the campus. “I think that was the Lord saying, ‘Here’s a place for you, buddy. You’ll do great here.’”

A few years later, Houston graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education, which enabled him to teach early childhood-aged kids for nine years. In addition to teaching, Houston was an assistant coach for the EU men’s basketball team for four years, and then assisted the women’s team for another five years. Houston’s time as an assistant coach for Eastern’s women’s basketball marked their most successful five-year span as a team. During the 2014-2015 season, they earned a national ranking and made it to the NCAA tournament.

Following that successful season, former head coach Nate Davis accepted a head coaching position at Gettysburg College, leaving a vacant position that Houston accepted with gratitude, humility, and excitement. In June of 2015, EU Athletics announced that Houston would serve as head coach of the Eastern women’s basketball team. Houston’s promotion from assistant to head coach allows EUWB to develop without the obstacle of getting to know an entirely new coach. “I know all the players,” he says, “I recruited half the team.”

In fact, Houston’s very first recruit as an assistant coach was Tori Grossi, the Eagles’ only senior this season. Houston recruited Grossi while she was still playing high school ball, and she has been a part of the EUWB program since 2012. “When I recruited her,” Houston remembers, “I saw this kid that just had a lot of energy. From watching her then and seeing where she is now, it’s like night and day. She’s out right now with an ACL injury from last season, but she’s making so much progress. She’s like the missing piece to our puzzle.”

Houston says that his favorite part about the game is just watching players develop as individuals. “From freshman to senior year, I love watching them grow as adults. I like watching them do things on the court that they have never done before, or taking things more seriously in the classroom.” Houston stresses that he wants the best for his players both on and off the court.

On Sat., Nov. 14, EUWB will play their first game of the season at home against Rosemont College, and Houston will be making his debut as head coach. His strategy for the season is to tackle one game at a time. He reminds his players that there is no reason to look ahead or worry about another team because the future is out of their control. The only thing they can control is how they play. Houston wants his team to prepare to the best of their ability.

With the utmost honesty, Houston reflects, “I never thought that I’d go to Eastern University and graduate. I never thought I’d come to Eastern and play basketball for three years and be successful at it. I never thought that I’d be an assistant coach. I never thought that I would help a team get to a national ranking and make it to the NCAA tournament. I never thought I’d be promoted to head coach. With all that being said, I haven’t done anything. It was all God’s work. I’m just going to do what He asks me to do. I’m just going to be humble and make sure that these ladies are successful on and off the court.”

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