NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- Eric Acra has been the head boys basketball coach at Norfolk Academy for 20 years, coaching countless student-athletes. Mark Williams and David McCormack are two who stood out.
"It helps my street-cred for coaching, I would say, to say that I coached those two guys," he joked.
Fast forward, and Williams and McCormack are both preparing to hit the court in the Final Four. Williams is a sophomore center for Duke, while the senior McCormack suits up and plays forward for Kansas. Both took their own roads to this point, but Norfolk Academy was a significant stop for both players.
"David came to us in seventh grade," Acra recalled. "We knew he was something special."
As for Williams, the basketball program was waiting for him to reach playing age for awhile.
"Mark came in first grade," said the head coach. "I remember the admissions director running down to my office saying 'there's a 5'4" first grader at Norfolk Academy. You've got to hold on until he gets up to you.' I held on and it was well worth the wait."
Acra realized the star power pretty quickly. The two never overlapped at the varsity level, but both left their marks on the Bulldog program. Williams led the team to a league championship in 2018 and many walk past a picture of him blocking a shot as they walk into Norfolk Academy's gym.
"He was 6'11", that was Mark his junior year. David was 6'9", close to 289 lbs. That in itself said they were going to be special, but then the time they put in on their craft really kind of set them apart."
McCormack left for Oak Hill Academy prior to his junior season, while Williams headed to IMG Academy in Florida to play his senior campaign. Acra, who called both players "great character guys," admitted that he was disappointed to see them leave, but he understood why they departed and it was the right move, as history has shown. Even after the two left Norfolk Academy, they continued to keep in touch with their Bulldog classmates, as well as their former head coach.
"We text back and forth either before or after games most days," Acra said. "I wish them well or congratulate them on a great game, so it's just been so much fun to follow them and watch them translate their success into big-time basketball."
The two former Bulldogs will take the floor in New Orleans under the bright lights of the Final Four, looking to help their respective college programs to a national championship. When they do, some familiar faces will be in the crowd cheering them on.
"I told both the guys, 'If you guys make it to the Final Four, we're coming,'" said the Bulldogs' head coach. "Yesterday I was on the phone with (athletic director) Chad (Byler) for awhile trying to figure out our way down there. We've got our hotel, we've got our flights, now we're just trying to finagle tickets and we're working on that."
McCormack averages 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Jayhawks. He earned Third Team All-Big 12 honors.
Williams was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year while also pulling in All-ACC Third Team accolades. He's posted 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per outing heading into the Final Four. His 2.9 blocks per game lead the ACC and are good enough for 11th in the country.
Kansas faces Villanova in the first national semifinal on Saturday, tipping off at 6:09 PM. Duke meets North Carolina in the second semifinal, getting underway at approximately 8:49 PM. Both games can be seen on TBS.