After two noteworthy seasons with the LSU Tigers where he averaged 9.0ppg, 2.9apg, 3.3rpg, and 2.1spg on 46/25/79 shooting splits this past year, Eric Gaines was one of the more intriguing names to hit the transfer portal this off-season. A hyper quick guard who can finish above the rim and has the ball on a string as a lead creator, Gaines is poised to make the most of his next chapter with UAB as he pursues his dreams of playing pro.
In our latest rendition of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Gaines discussed his decision to join UAB, what he’s going to bring to the program, his belief in the coaching staff, his basketball journey and more.
Pro Insight’s Tyler Glazier spoke with the newest Blazer.
Pro Insight: Talk about your basketball journey — how did you get to where you are today?
Eric Gaines: I really started playing basketball at the age of five. I wasn’t always the biggest or strongest guy on the court, so me being the smallest guy on the court all of the time, it just gave me the will to fight for that spot and position that I always wanted to be in. Growing up, I had a bumpy road with my basketball career, dealing with a lot of injuries and I had to sit out a couple games during my career. There was adversity, I just had to fight through it growing up playing the sport that I love. I got to where I am today by just putting the work in, man. Getting in the gym, lifting, eating right, thanking God and my family. Just a lot, man. If it wasn’t for them, then I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today.
PI: Being the smallest guy in the gym — do you feel like you’ve been slept on throughout your career?
EG: Yeah, you said it correctly, being slept on. That’s all it was. That’s what gave me the urge to get that chip on my shoulder and go harder. I was tired of hearing the “too small” talk or “he’s not gonna get big” or “he’s not gonna do this or that.” So I always had a chip on my shoulder to just go out and prove people wrong.
PI: When would you say you fell in love with the game?
EG: My dad actually played basketball growing up and he always told me “always follow your own dreams” but one of his dreams was for me to play basketball and I just always kept that with me. I just always remember us being outside in the front yard dribbling and shooting the ball and I just fell in love with that. I fell in love with dribbling and shooting the basketball. Then I told my parents when I moved to Atlanta at the age of five, that I wanted to play basketball and I just kept playing ever since and never looked back.
PI: Was there a moment or time when you felt like you could play basketball at the college or pro level?
EG: Yeah, I want to say around eighth grade going into my freshman year of high school. That’s when I thought I had the chance to be special. The only reason I say that is because I had so many supporters around me telling me, “you’re very talented and athletic” and “you have a God-given talent”. I just kept hearing it from everybody and I actually took the initiative to go be the best me.
PI: Describe your experience at LSU.
EG: My experience at LSU was smooth. I enjoyed my freshman year, but I had a better experience my sophomore year because freshman year was during COVID. I got to experience the actual college experience my sophomore year at LSU. The whole LSU environment is just beautiful. If you come on campus you’ll see a live tiger, like many universities don’t have a live mascot on campus, but LSU does. It’s just a different experience, they show you a lot of love here. Just a lot of support.
PI: Talk about that amazing block against Iowa State in March Madness — what did you see on that play?
EG: I got a rebound, pushed it down the court and saw Xavier [Pinson] on the other side of the court and cross skipped the pass. He was driving and I was supposed to cut down the lane, but he already threw it out, so the guy from Iowa State intercepted the pass and ran down the court. I tried to back tip, but he switched hands so I just timed his layup. I knew that I had so much bounce that I could takeoff before another player while in the air, so I kinda did that [laughs]. And he put the ball right in the perfect spot for me to block it so I just volleyball spiked that guy [laughs].
PI: When it came down to it — what were the most important factors in choosing your next step?
EG: The most important was gaining trust with the coach. That was one of my biggest reasons why I’m interested in the school that I picked, because of the coaching staff. I feel like I can trust them. Then my inner circle: my parents, friends, my manager, etc. I just have a lot of people who trusted them [the coaching staff] and have seen what they can do with players. I just feel like my new head coach is going to keep it 100 with me. I don’t like it when people sugarcoat things or try to beat around the bush, but coach keeps it up front and he tells you what he wants or what it's going to be. And it’s either going to be that or you’re not going to be successful. It was just a lot of thinking about the process with my parents because there were a lot of things that I had been through before in the past with coaching and me gaining coaches' trust. But I feel like with my new coach, he’s a guy where he just wants you to go be the best you.
PI: Who did you lean on for guidance throughout the process?
EG: Well first, I want to say God, I had to keep talking to Him. My mother and father, as well as a couple more people. It was just me going to them and asking them what the best decision was for me. And they were telling me, “you’re old, you’ve got to start making your own decisions,” so for this process I just had to think more about right now, but also for the future. What player I want to be and what I want to accomplish. I sat down with the people I’m close with and I just felt very comfortable with making this decision on the school I chose.
PI: How much different has this process been compared to your high school recruitment?
EG: After I committed to LSU, I started getting more and more offers, but I was already committed so there was really like no point in decommitting since I already made my decision. But for the transfer portal, after I did what I did my freshman and sophomore years, coaches were on notice so they’ve been hitting my phone. They’ve been wanting to get in contact with me. I’ve been talking to a few coaches about the process and it was just a decision that needed to be made based on where I wanted to be and how I see my future going. So I talked to my inner circle and we made the decision.
PI: Without further adieu — where will you be playing next season?
EG: I will be attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
EG: Thank you.
PI: You had a ton of college interest — what separated UAB from the rest?
EG: Like I said, starting off with Coach Andy Kennedy, you have to gain trust with the coach before anything. I also have a relationship with Jelly [Jordan Walker], me and him are close friends. This past summer we were in Miami working out and getting runs in. I feel comfortable playing with him and we can make eachother better. He lives in the gym and you see how he went from shooting a bad percentage before to coming to UAB and shooting the lights out. So I feel like by being in the gym with Jelly, his work ethic is going to rub off on my work ethic and mine will rub off on his. I feel like with me and him in the backcourt we can’t be stopped. I just feel comfortable with these guys, man. I feel very good about this upcoming year.
PI: What was UAB’s most consistent message to you throughout the process?
EG: Just to get stronger and stay in the gym. Coach Kennedy knows what kind of players he’s getting and he knows what I want to be in life. He told me, “stay in the weight room and the gym, and your dreams will come true” and I believe him. That’s what I’m going to do and we’ll see the outcome.
PI: How excited are you to get to campus and help put UAB basketball on the map?
EG: I’m very excited! I can’t wait to get this journey started. There’s a lot of guys who are doubting my decision to drop from the SEC to the Conference USA, but they also don’t know there’s a lot of talent everywhere you go and people are going to be watching. It doesn’t matter where you play if you can ball out, be an outstanding player on the court and not be compared to others on the court. That applies to really anything you do in this world, you really have to stand out and be that dog.
PI: What was Coach Kennedy’s reaction when you told him the news?
EG: You know he was excited, man — he couldn’t wait to get me! It was fun talking to him, he was very excited when I told him I was going to come on campus and see what everything looked like and I was going to be making my decision. He and the other coaches were very excited to have me on campus.
PI: What is UAB getting in Eric Gaines?
EG: UAB is getting a dog, man. UAB is getting a dog. That’s all I’m going to say, UAB fans just be ready for this dog.
PI: What are your goals for next season?
EG: I want to get stronger, get to at least 160-170 pounds. I want to help go back-to-back with winning the conference championship. Make March Madness again, they made it last year and lost to Houston in the first round. I want to come here and change that. I want to get at least two or three March Madness wins because it would look better for the school and look better for the players. It’d be an all around win-win situation. I just feel like that’s important to get to March Madness, but most importantly I want to go back to back in the conference championship. I want to win that.
PI: Lastly, do you have any message for the Blazer fans who are thrilled about your commitment?
EG: Blazer fans, I can’t wait to see you on campus and can’t wait to see you support us at the games. Let's have a hell of a season this year!