PORTLAND, Maine — Eric Demers spent the first few months of 2021 working as a hiring coordinator at an insurance company on the North Shore. He rang in the New Year playing in the basketball league just below the NBA.
Demers, 24, is a key rotation player for the Maine Celtics, Boston’s G League affiliate. An Acushnet, Mass., native and Gordon College alumnus, Demers is chasing his hoop dream with the franchise he grew up watching as a season ticket-holder.
“I’m living every New England kid’s dream,” said Demers, a 6-foot-1-inch guard. “It’s a great opportunity I don’t take lightly.”
Gordon coach Tod Murphy, who played parts of five seasons in the NBA, described Demers as a once-moody player who punched the floor and broke his hand in frustration during practice but matured during his rehab from injuries that forced him to redshirt his sophomore year.
“He started to grow up a lot and took a more vocal role on the team,” Murphy said. “He gained a lot of confidence and became more of a leader.”
Demers received national attention when he led the country in scoring at 32.4 points per game as a redshirt senior in 2019-20. But few if any NBA scouts came to see Demers play in person at Gordon.
Remy Cofied, the Celtics director of scouting and Maine’s general manager, heard about Demers from the NBA players he played pickup with and the barber they share, Coco Fernandez.
Plenty of résumés from 6-1 guards come Cofield’s way, so Demers was put “on the back burner a little bit,” Cofield said. “We wanted to see where his first step would be.”
Demers spent his first postgraduate summer training to play professionally overseas. He signed with a team in New Zealand, but he had visa issues during the pandemic, so that opportunity fell through.
Demers stayed busy playing pickup games with NBA players, including Jaylen Brown. He made enough of an impression on Brown to be invited to workouts with him, Marcus Smart, Charlestown native Shabazz Napier, and other pros during the NBA’s COVID-19 pause.
But without an invite to the G League’s bubble, Demers joined the corporate world.
“When one door closes, another opens,” Demers said. “I got to work with a lot of pros in the Boston area, which kind of benefited me in the long run.”
Indeed it did.
A standout performance in TBT (The Basketball Tournament) caught the attention of nine NBA teams. Demers went 7 for 11 from 3-point range in a game on ESPN, and the San Antonio Spurs invited him to play in the 2021 Summer League, making him the only non-Division 1 player to earn that distinction that year.
Demers appeared in only one game, finishing with 12 points and 3 rebounds on 4-of-11 shooting in 19 minutes. Hours later, his wife, Lauren, went into labor. Demers hopped on a red-eye from Las Vegas to Boston in time to see the birth of his son, Jordan.
But Cofield’s interest was piqued, especially by the ESPN game, with Demers “making every shot imaginable.” And with a newborn, Demers wasn’t looking to go overseas.
“Our goal was to stay in the States,” said Demers, who lives in Beverly, “and it worked out that we’re staying even closer than expected.”
Maine acquired Demers via trade on the night of the 2021 G League draft.
With the pandemic’s resurgence and subsequent NBA roster madness with call-ups and 10-day contracts, Demers is taking advantage of another opportunity. He is averaging 7.9 points in 25.1 minutes per game across 21 appearances (nine starts).
Demers started eight of 11 games in a stretch where Maine lost a bevy of players to NBA call-ups from Dec. 9 through Jan.19, scoring in double figures four times.
“It’s different preparation of not knowing whether your number’s going to be called,” Demers said. “It’s definitely been a mental transition for me learning how to fit a role in the professional ranks.”
On any given night, Demers is playing with and against former college stars pictured in the annual “One Shining Moment” March Madness video. The majority come from the Dukes and Villanovas of the world.
“Early on I dealt with the D3 tag, which I kind of put on myself when comparing with who else is on the court,” Demers said. “I’ve now proved to myself that I do belong.”
Juwan Morgan agrees. A former Indiana Hoosier with parts of three NBA seasons under his belt, Morgan said Demers fits right in with the Maine Celtics.
“The way he carries himself, competes, and plays, you never would’ve thought he was D3,” Morgan said. “I always ask, ‘How did no D1s around the East Coast even think to look at him?’ ”
The goal with all Maine players, Cofield said, is to “make them better from when they came in.”
“It’s kind of a push-pull thing,” Cofield said. “It’s been pretty successful with him being able to jump into certain moments and show what he can do.”
A return to Maine next year is not off the table, but it’s likely that Demers eventually will head overseas. He and his family initially put a three-year cap on his pro career, given the expectations at the time, but now the goal is to keep playing “as long as it makes sense.”
“I’ve never tried to put a ceiling on my potential,” Demers said. “I think if a lot of people did, they wouldn’t even think I’d be here.”