Ervin's Days Are Packed

FAYETTEVILLE--Gary Ervin swings open the door to his apartment, exhausted from practice and ready for a nap. But at 5 p.m. on this Sunday in mid-December, his day is far from over. It's really just getting started, despite the three-hour workout the Arkansas basketball team just finished.

There's no homework to do. Final exams ended a few days earlier. But something else, someone else to be exact, is waiting.

Neve'a Ervin stumbles over to Gary, and they start playing. Ervin knows it could be a long night now. Besides, he never minds putting off sleep for his 13-month-old daughter.

"She's so fun, so full of energy," Ervin said. "I love to spend time with her, whether it's going to the mall or just hanging around. All I try to do is spend as much time as I possibly can with her."

Some days, Ervin enjoys ample time with Neve'a. Some days, he just can't. But with so much else going on, including his duties as Arkansas' starting point guard, Ervin doesn't get down.

This wasn't how Ervin imagined his future as a prep standout in Brooklyn. A child at age 22 wasn't on his list of goals when he set out for Mississippi State.

But everything changed in the spring of 2004. Ervin's girlfriend in Starkville, Tawaski Merrill, got pregnant. At about the same time, unhappy with his role within the Bulldogs' program, Ervin decided to transfer.

Since then, a lot has happened. Ervin joined the Razorbacks. Neve'a was born. Ervin sat out a season, forced to watch games instead of play in them for the first time. It all resulted in a swift maturation for Ervin.

"You have to take your hat off to a kid who's willing to sacrifice a lot of things to do the right thing and be responsible," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "And Gary has tried to do everything he can to be a good dad, to take care of his academics, to be a leader as our point guard and to be a guy who's going to help his team be successful."



Unexpected Arrival

Just as Arkansas finished up a loss to Connecticut in the 2005 Maui Invitational, Merrill gave birth to Neve'a.

On Nov. 21, 2005, Ervin's life changed. Forever.

"I had to learn time management real fast," Ervin said. "There's only so much time in the day to get everything done. As a young parent, you have to realize you're a parent all the time. Not just some of the time. For me, it's basketball, school and her. And that's it."

At first, the alteration in lifestyle was a bit of a shock to Ervin. The responsibility. The late nights. The rare spare time.

Ervin's mother, Mary Southerland, lived in Fayetteville for most of Neve'a's first year, assisting Gary and Merrill in every way possible.

"She was such a big help, and we were so grateful," Ervin said. Southerland left earlier this year, but another Ervin family member took her place. Ervin's older brother, who's called "Uncle Zo," moved into the three's apartment at The Cliffs. Ervin said his brother's presence is so valuable. To him, to Neve'a, to Merrill.

"He went through a similar-type situation," Ervin said. "He knows how tough it can be. He knows how you can always use help as young parents."

Even with assistance, days of school and basketball and nights with Neve'a are taxing.

Heath said he has noticed a different Ervin several times at practice.

"I've seen days where you can tell he's a little tired," Heath said. "You know, maybe the baby's been up all night, and he didn't get much sleep. I think we've all been through those days. He's just trying, and he's trying as hard as he can. Sometimes, you think maybe that's a little too much on a guy, but he's handling it."

Ervin's backcourt mate Patrick Beverley marvels at the balancing act. Beverley and Ervin clicked immediately upon the Chicago freshman's arrival in Fayetteville.

Despite all his other commitments, Ervin always made time to bond with Beverley.

"We play video games and hang out quite a bit," Beverley said. "It never takes away from him being a dad, though. (Neve'a) is usually right there by us.

"He's a great dad, like I hope to be one day."



A Bad Situation

It just wasn't working out. That's all Ervin will say about his two-year stint at Mississippi State.

On the surface, the move seemed surprising. Before Neve'a, before any thoughts of a move to Fayetteville, Ervin found an integral role in Rick Stansbury's rotation.

Ervin appeared in 30 games as a freshman and aided the Bulldogs' 26-4 season. As a sophomore, Ervin started 33 of 34 games with averages of 7.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.1 steals. Those teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament in both seasons.

But still, Ervin wasn't happy. Wanting to play more up-tempo, Ervin didn't mesh with Stansbury's offensive philosophy, and he wanted out.

"I just had to weigh my options," Ervin said. "It wasn't going well. I mean, I had no problem with the coaches or anything. It just wasn't for me. It was time for a change."

After looking at several schools, Ervin settled on Arkansas, knowing the starting point guard spot would open up this year. The move affected him in several trying ways.

Off the court, he lost 30 hours of school credit in the transfer. "That really set me back," said Ervin, a sociology major. "I'm going to take 21 hours (in the spring) semester. I'll have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays."

Ervin may have handled the type of class load better last year. Because then, on the court, Ervin couldn't do much. He could practice. He could lay the framework for his ascension into a leadership role.

But he had to sit out the season because of NCAA transfer rules. The games spent next to Heath gave Ervin an alternative outlook.

"He got to see things from a coach's perspective," Heath said. "For a point guard, for someone you want to be your leader, that's a great thing."

Sure, Ervin got frustrated, not being able to help his new teammates. But he relished the chance to learn more.

"It was hard, but there's no doubt it made me a better player," Ervin said.

Now Looking Comfortable

The dividends are now beginning to show.

Early in the season, Ervin struggled some with his decision-making. He experienced difficulties with turning the ball over -- so much that Ervin posted just two more assists than turnovers after Arkansas' first six games.

He showed the same issues that plagued him at Mississippi State.

"I don't necessarily think that he's having a bad season," Heath said. "If you look at his numbers, they're actually pretty solid, except the turnovers. They're too high. I know it. He knows it. And, we're fixing it. He's been pretty great in that area lately."

Lately, through video sessions with coaches and encouragement from teammates, Ervin has progressed.

The 6-foot, 176-pounder now averages 8.5 points per game and has 61 assists and 43 turnovers.

"He's getting better all the time," Arkansas junior Charles Thomas said. "He's making better choices with the ball, and we're seeing what kind of leader he's capable of being."

As for Ervin, he's always critical of his own play. After the Hogs' loss to Texas Tech, in which he had six turnovers and three assists, Ervin answered every question, head held high.

His demeanor was that of a man, a mature man, someone who realized how to handle responsibilities. Two years ago, Ervin wouldn't have known how to deal with the situation.

Heck, he didn't even know how to pick up the phone after learning of Merrill's pregnancy.

"At first, I was scared," Ervin said. "I didn't know what to tell my parents. But once I settled down, I saw that it was a blessing. I bet a lot of people don't realize how great having a child is until they do."

Ervin, for sure, didn't comprehend the joy Neve'a would bring. But, as with everything he's dealt with the past few years, Ervin just vows to live with no regrets and embrace the present. "I feel like I've become a grown man in all aspects," Ervin said. "Probably a lot faster than I thought I would."

TODAY'S TICKET TULSA AT ARKANSAS WHEN: 7:05 p.m. WHERE: Bud Walton Arena TV: ARSN (Ch. 9) RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3 RECORDS: Tulsa 9-2, Arkansas 10-3 HEAD COACHES: Tulsa, Doug Wojcik (second season); Arkansas, Stan Heath (fifth season)

BIO BOX

Name: Gary Ervin

Age: 23

Class: Junior

Height: 6-0

Weight: 176

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Notable: Ervin played in two NCAA Tournaments with Mississippi State before transferring to Arkansas. ... His teams went 27-2 as a prep junior at Robeson High in 2001, 29-4 as a senior in 2002 and 30-9 as a prep school player at Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) in 2003. ... He was a finalist for the McDonald's All-American Game.


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