Most kids love seeing their father sitting in the stands, ready to cheer them on. The same is true for Holy Innocents’ senior guard Jules Erving.
The difference is, everyone else in the building is glad to see his dad in the stands, too. That’s because his father is Julius “Dr. J” Erving, NBA Hall of Famer and one of the world’s all-time greatest players.
Though Dr. J rose to prominence in the early 1970's and retired 30 years ago after winning three championships (two with the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets and the 1983 NBA title with the Philadelphia 76’ers) and four league MVPs (three in the ABA, 1981 in the NBA), Julius Erving is still very popular to this day. The 66-year old has nearly 53,000 followers on Twitter.
“People recognize him everywhere we go,” said Jules, who at 6-foot-5 is just a shade shorter than his father. “I’ve seen his awards and read [positive] stuff people have said about him.”
Jules’ friend, teammate and fellow Bear captain Cole Smith agrees.
“When he’s at our practices and games, people always come up to him wanting his autograph and things like that,” said Smith, also a senior. “He's real cool about it. I’ve definitely done my research and know what a great player he was, but it’s still pretty funny when people like my dad and others act like fan-girl around him.”
But Smith said after four years, he is no longer star struck. Neither is Jules.
“To me, he’s just dad,” he said.
Holy Innocents’ head coach Adrian Collins said Julius Erving is not one of “those fathers” – the kind who prods and pushes his son in a relentless pursuit of excellence, while constantly staying in the coach’s ear.
“I may talk to him, maybe once a week,” said Collins, in his first year as head coach. “There is no pressure on Jules from his dad.”
Jules said his father will give him an analysis of his play following games, and gives him tips and advice. But he has allowed him the freedom to “find the game on my own.”
“It was always my choice if I wanted to play,” said Jules, who began playing in parks and rec leagues around fifth grade before joining the Top Notch Basketball Club AAU team with Smith and Richard Surdykowski, the third of the Bears’ senior tri-captains, in eighth grade.
But Collins said the pressure on Jules is organic.
“Of course he has pressure on him [to perform like his father],” he said. “There are a lot of expectations.”
Jules has begun to meet those expectations this season. He’s averaging 16 points and four rebounds per game, while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Collins said Jules is just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent, and sees snippets of his father’s game in him.
“His form on his shot and his stride down the court, I definitely see it,” said Collins, who noted that Jules has his father’s signature athleticism as well, illustrated by his 38-inch vertical leap.
“He’s definitely a high flyer,” Collins said. “He may not dunk in traffic like his dad, but in transition … I just want him to understand that he can be the most dominant player on the court. He has such a high ceiling. He doesn’t know yet that he is unstoppable.”
Smith has had a front-row seat in witnessing the growth in his friend’s game since they began playing together as eighth graders for Top Notch, and then at Holy Innocents’.
“He used to just rely on his athleticism, and he still has that,” Smith said. “It’s a known fact that you can’t jump with him. But he can play below the rim, too. His jump shot has really improved and he plays great defense, too.”
“My confidence has progressed as I’ve gotten better fundamentally,” Jules said. “I’ve always had my jumping ability, which I know I got from [Dr. J]. But I think my best asset now is my mid-range [shooting] and my ability to get to the basket quickly.”
Led by the strong play of Jules, Smith (21 points, four assists per game) and Surdykowski (10 points, six rebounds per game), Holy Innocents’ (14-5) is No. 6 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Class A Private Top 10 poll, and has climbed to No. 7 in the Georgia High School Association/Max Preps Power Ratings for Class A private schools.
The Bears have won 11 of their last 12 games and have two huge road games this weekend – a Region 5 contest tonight at Wesleyan and at Class AA Pace Academy on Saturday.
Jules said the team’s confidence level continues to grow. In December, Holy Innocents’ was embarrassed on its home floor by No. 3 Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (No. 5 in the power ratings), 88-61. Last week, the Bears held a 33-24 halftime lead over the Warriors in the rematch, but eventually fell 71-68.
Jules hopes he, Smith and Surdykowski can mirror the Big Three of his father’s Philadelphia 76’ers team – Dr. J, guard Maurice Cheeks and center Moses Malone – that won the NBA title in 1983.
“I think we have the potential to be as great as we want to be,” Jules said of the Bears. “I definitely think we can take on the best teams in the state.”