By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – All his life Eric Vila has been a stretch four.
It's a position defined by forwards like Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Chris Bosh. It's also a role tailor made for Vila, a 6-foot-11 playmaker originally from Spain who transferred to NWF State from Texas A&M.
Yet in the Raiders' makeup, Vila is so much more than a tall, lengthy shooter that can extend defenses on the wing.
He can bring the ball up the court. He can play the 2 or the 3. He can settle into his natural position.
And, as we've learned with Ludgy Debaut's foot injury that has the 6-10 post player sidelined until mid-January, Vila can shine at center.
"When you say versatility, that's who you think of," NWF State coach Steve DeMeo said. "He's incredibly tough, he can play the perimeter, he's a good passer and he has a high basketball IQ.
"His teammates love him because he's hard to play against and easy to play with."
DeMeo pointed out two instances to highlight Vila, a sophomore who recently signed with UTEP.
One came at Indian Hills, which boasted a 41-game home win streak before NWF State's 86-72 road win.
"He gave a shot fake behind the 3-point line, took one dribble and was at the rim with the finish," DeMeo said.
Another came in practice when a teammate tried to throw a pass over the press.
"He swatted it. He's so long, a true 6-11," DeMeo said. "Anybody else, that pass would've gotten through."
Vila is so versatile he'll find himself pitted against the opposing point guards on defensive switches. But unlike traditional centers, he's no liability on the perimeter.
"That's the strength of this team – everyone can play multiple positions," Vila said.
Vila's especially has thrived at center in the absence of Debaut, the Spaniard posting an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double against Indian Hills to pad his season averages of 10.6 points (50 percent shooting) and 6.1 rebounds a night.
Over the last four games he's posting 8.3 rebounds a night.
"I'm just trying to do the little things," Vila said. "I'm 225 (pounds) so I don't have a light frame. It's just about positioning yourself and playing smart. I have a high basketball IQ and I can play anywhere."
That's why he was fielding Division I offers from all over, schools like Creighton, Nebraska and Minnesota joining UTEP in the courtship. But in UTEP he saw a coaching staff and environment that believed in his talents — both in the paint and on the perimeter.
"It was the best fit for me," said Vila, who faced the opposite at Texas A&M after a coaching change.
But at College Station he pivoted and found a home in NWF State, which is 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country.
"The beauty of it is we all are striving for and pushing forward to win a championship," Vila said. "We're also just trying to take it a game at a time, as cliché as that sounds. We're focused on getting better every day."
Only expect Vila's role to increase – both in stats and versatility.
"He's not a position, he's a basketball player," DeMeo said. He's perfect because he's the type of player we recruit. He can dribble, pass and shoot.
"And, as good as a player he is, he's a better person and a better teammate."