A four-year starter in high school, Eckerle had contemplated the idea of playing basketball in college but decided against it. Instead, the No. 1 student in Borgia's graduating class of 142 kids was prepared to go to Saint Louis University and major in biology with hopes of becoming a doctor.
Then Rick Majerus took over as coach of the Saint Louis University basketball team, heard about Eckerle's exploits in high school — including winning a state championship as a junior and averaging 24.7 points per game as a senior — and offered Eckerle a scholarship for his freshman year.
"It's been a really surprising opportunity," Eckerle said back in June. "I'd kind of resigned to the fact that it may not work out, but it's been a welcomed opportunity. My parents and I are ecstatic."
What was a surprising opportunity for Eckerle months ago has become surprisingly good fortune for Majerus and Saint Louis U. (3-1).
A 6-foot-1, 175-pounder, Eckerle has already become a key contributor for the Billikens. He was the first guard off the bench for Wednesday's 66-58 visiting against visiting Detroit at Scottrade Center and scored five points in 25 minutes. Through four games he is averaging six points per contest while playing 17.5 minutes per game and is tied for the team lead with five 3-pointers.
A new team rule dictates that freshmen are not allowed to talk to the media. That doesn't matter because Eckerle has let his play do the talking, and he has a growing number of fans in the program, starting with the head coach.
"I love the kid," Majerus said after the game. "If we didn't have him… "
Majerus didn't finish the thought. He didn't have to.
"He's tough," Majerus said. "He's smart. He hit two of the biggest shots of the game. … He'll make everybody better. Whatever I have to do to keep him on scholarship next year I'll do. Whatever I have to do to get him into med school, I'll do."
SLU forward Luke Meyer is Eckerle's cousin and also a Borgia graduate. It's safe to say the senior is pleased Eckerle is on the court playing with him rather than in the stands watching the action.
"Paul's doing a great job," Meyer said after Wednesday's game. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. He's being real aggressive, with driving and close-outs. Defensively, he's getting up into people. … Paul's doing a great job. I think he'll get better as the season goes on."
Eckerle has certainly been an asset so far this season. He scored 11 points in the second game of the year against Houston Baptist. And then had eight points, including two 3-pointers, against No. 22 Pittsburgh the next night.
"I knew what he was capable of," Meyer said. "One thing about Paul is he's real confident in himself and I think you can see that out on the floor."
It's a good thing for the Billikens that you can even see Eckerle on the floor.
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