Eli Cain finished with nine points, four rebounds and three steals in the first game of the France tour on Aug. 12.
Sept. 2, 2015
CHICAGO - Eli Cain was at a crossroads in his recruiting process and had to make a decision that would have quite an impact on his college basketball career.
After leading St. Benedict's to a 31-6 record and the NCSAA and New Jersey State Prep titles last season, he was being pursued by schools such as Memphis, Oklahoma, St. John's, Providence, Creighton, Southern Methodist, Delaware and Boston.
Scout.com ranked the McDonald's All-American nominee among the top five available forwards last spring, and he was ranked by ESPN.com among the top 10 players in New Jersey.
The multi-talented 6-foot, 6-inch athlete narrowed his choices to Memphis, Oklahoma, Delaware and Boston before eventually committing to Delaware.
"I made the commitment, but then there were some problems over there and they rescinded the scholarship offer," Cain said. "It was back to the recruiting process all over again."
Cain began closely considering DePaul after that and made a commitment the day before the Blue Demons' BIG EAST tournament opener.
Two days after he committed, coach Oliver Purnell resigned.
"After what happened in Delaware, I wondered if I would have to go through the recruiting process all over again," Cain said. "My coach at Medford Tech (Cain's first high school) Nick Powell said to relax, take my time and don't rush into any decision. I had a good talk with DePaul assistant coach Billy Garrett.
"DePaul was definitely a good situation for me. It would be a chance to play as a freshman in the city of Chicago and in the BIG EAST, one of the best basketball conferences in the country. I talked to the new coach Dave Leitao a couple of times and he seemed like a good guy."
The versatile Cain appears to be a good fit for the Blue Demons, starting every game in the recent trip to France in which the student-athletes walked in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul and played against four French teams.
In a 96-62 loss to Caen Calvados on Aug. 12, Cain finished with nine points, four rebounds and three steals in 28 minutes.
Four days later he contributed two points, four assists, four steals and one rebound in a 92-51 victory over the Pro France AMW All-Stars.
On Aug. 18, Cain had 11 points, eight rebounds, one assist and one steal during a 93-63 win over SAP Vaucluse. The next day in the final game of the trip, he had 13 points, three rebounds and two assists in a 75-51 triumph over U.S. Cagnes Basket.
"My first game, I was actually more relaxed than I thought I would be," Cain said. "The game settled in really quickly and it became just another basketball game of my life.
"That last game was for sure the game I became the most comfortable. I wasn't happy with my play in the first two games. So, the night before the last two games, I made sure I got a lot of sleep and was as prepared as I can be.
"Once I got comfortable, it was just another game. I also stayed very aggressive as my teammates were finding me for easy buckets."
The overseas tour gave an incoming freshman like Cain the perfect entrée into the Blue Demon program.
"The team for sure became closer on that trip," Cain said. "I think it was because we really only had about four fans for each game, so we had to support each other even more than usual.
"One of my biggest highlights of the trip was being out shopping and walking around with the team and the coaches. We have some very funny people on our staff.
"The best part of the trip was just having fun with my teammates. Those guys are like my brothers. For sure, Nice was the best place we visited."
Cain has an idea of the role he could play this season.
"I can see myself playing point guard, shooting guard or small forward at DePaul," Cain said. "I love to pass and have a similar game to Billy Garrett Jr. Both of us can play both guard positions.
"I'm a scorer who loves to pass. At 6-6, I can see over smaller guards. I have more of an all-around game and I'm not afraid of anybody. I'm a winner.
"I've never been a loser at any level of basketball, and I'm ready to help build DePaul into a consistent winning program. In open gym here, I didn't take it easy at all. I think we have a lot of talent and can do a lot of winning this season."
There's a sense of optimism Cain is bringing into the upcoming season.
"We have different types of games and come from different backgrounds," Cain said. "We'll start to blend together, and I`ve seen it happen with my previous teams. We're a sleeper going into the season, and I think we're going to surprise a lot of people. They have no idea.
"I'm going to embrace coach Leitao's emphasis on defense and rebounding. People don't generally like to play defense, but it's so important to a winning program. We have a lot of scorers, so defense and rebounding are going to be the most important things."
Before transferring to St. Benedict's, Cain played in a game that was pivotal in his young career.
"The most important game of my high school career came when I scored 20 points for Medford Tech in a game against national power St. Anthony that was coached by Bob Hurley," Cain said. "I was a tall point guard that was matched up against 6-8 point guard Kyle Anderson who went on to play at UCLA and the San Antonio Spurs and was named MVP of the NBA Summer League.
"When I went against Kyle, he was one of the top players in the nation. The students at my school knew I was going against him. I just wanted to prove myself, and it was pretty amazing.
"We played well and were only down by five points at halftime. I could hear Bob Hurley ripping into them at halftime, and they came out like monsters in the second half and won.
"I had a good game against a 6-8 point guard and was proud of myself. I was really proud of the team and how we competed. That game took me to another level."
It also brought him an opportunity to expand his basketball horizon.
"It was a game that changed my career," Cain said. "I was seen by two top AAU coaches who invited me to try out for their teams. One of them was the New Jersey Playaz whose former players included Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, DaJuan Wagner, J.R. Smith Dahntay Jones and Wayne Ellington. Also, New York Giants football player Victor Cruz played for them."
Cain was the South Jersey Player of the Year as a junior, averaging nearly 21 points per game. He led Medford Tech to the South Jersey sectional title with 29 points, eight assists, four steals and four blocks in an 87-69 win over Sterling.
The summer before his senior year, Cain said that his Playaz coach Jim Salmon thought the basketball star would benefit by transferring to St. Benedict's Prep in Newark.
"At first I kept ignoring him," Cain said. "It would be a long commute away from home, taking two buses and a train. Do I really want to do that?
"It turned out to be the best thing I ever did. I grew up on and off the court at St. Benedict's."
He came under the guidance of coach Mark Taylor and reclassified to enter as a junior. One of Cain's best games was scoring 25 points in a victory over Simeon at the Penny Hardaway Classic.
Cain averaged 12.0 points and 3.0 assists per game at St. Benedict's as the Gray Bees finished the with a 31-6 record and the pair of titles.
"I'm studying sports management and would love to live out my dream of playing in the NBA," Cain said. "I've been around NBA guys like J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones and know how hard it is to make it. When the former Playaz guys come back in the summer, I see how they act on and off the court. That's been real good for me.
"One of my goals this year is to be the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Another is for our team to make the NCAA tournament. That would be crazy---the best thing I've ever done if we can make it."
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