A fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament obviously means a lot to the entire Temple program.

 

For fifth-year senior Michael Eric, it means everything. It means he'll be extending his career, something he wasn't always sure would happen.

 

"Man, I'm excited to be playing, really excited," Eric said with a grin last Sunday, right after Temple was selected as a No. 5 seed in this year's NCAA tournament. "With the injuries I've had, I've learned to take nothing for granted. I'm ready for the tournament. Let's go."

 

Eric fractured his right patella last season and missed last year's tournament.

 

Eric reinjured the same patella on Nov. 25 and wound up missing 13 games. The 6-foot-11 center is averaging 9.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game -- and his rebounding would have ranked second in the entire Atlantic 10, if not for the 13 games he missed.

 

Numbers aside, he's just thrilled to be playing.

"When you have something taken away from you, it's rough," said Eric, who has earned his bachelor's degree in advertising and is pursuing his master's degree in adult and organizational development. "I worked so hard to get back and then I got hurt again. It wasn't easy this season. I just tried to work hard, stay positive and take it one day at a time. I'm so happy that I'm healthy for the tournament."

With Eric patrolling the paint, the Owls are much more dangerous on both ends of the court. Just ask one of his teammates.

"Michael is a great defensive player and he'll erase shots if a guy gets by one of us," said guard Ramone Moore. "He also changes so many shots with his presence in there. Having Michael on the court makes us a totally different team."