Dec. 2, 2009
By Michael Perry
Nick Van Exel wants to practice what he's preaching.
As an assistant coach for Texas Southern University, he tells the players to make sure they graduate and how that will help them in the long run. And so 17 years later, Van Exel is going to work on finishing the requirements needed for his college degree.
"I want to get that done," he said Tuesday night after UC trounced Texas Southern 94-57 at Fifth Third Arena. "Probably (it will take) one year. It's something I want to do. It's something I need to do. If I had this brain about 20 years ago, I wouldn't be here talking about that.
Van Exel said he's received his transcripts from UC and plans to finish at Texas Southern.
"For me, it's very personal that I had that opportunity and I let it slip by," he said.
Before the game, Van Exel was recognized upon his return to the arena in which he helped lead the Bearcats to the 1992 Final Four and the 1993 Elite Eight. He averaged 15.2 points, 3.6 assists and totaled a then-school record 147 3-point field goals while playing two years for Bob Huggins at UC. Van Exel was named third-team All-America in 1993.
"It was fun to be back," he said. "It brought back a lot of memories."
The crowd gave him a nice welcome home. Then many scratched their heads and thought, "Nick's coaching at Texas Southern? Huh?"
Van Exel, who lives in Houston, retired from the NBA in 2006 after a 13-year career in which he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs.
He is among the top-10 all-time in 3-point field goals made (1,528), and he finished with 12,658 career points, 5,777 assists and a 14.4 ppg scoring average.
He always knew he wanted to go into coaching and planned to take off two years after retiring before launching his new career.
"Where I made my mistake (was) when I was finishing up playing in the NBA, I wasn't vocal about it," he said of his desire to coach. "Before that third year came I really wasn't ready mentally. I sent out a few calls to the NBA, to a few teams, but that didn't work out.
"This opportunity presented itself. I said, 'I'm going to go ahead and give it a shot and let people see that I'm really interested.' When you take a job like this ... it opens up people's eyes, and that's what I wanted to do."
Texas Southern, which plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, is 3-5. It's hardly the big-time of college basketball. That's OK with Van Exel. He knows he's gaining valuable experience.
"I love it," he said. "I love this level. The guys listen. They're receptive. It's a learning experience, and I really need it. Being an athlete you think you can just jump into something and do it. I'm learning a lot of things. I'm learning more about myself. I'm learning how to talk to the kids. I like it a lot.
"I'm totally the opposite of Huggs as far as (being) volatile. I'm very quiet, laidback. I don't have a lot of yelling in me. But his material was great. I still use it."
One thing Van Exel could live without: The bus rides.
Here's a guy who traveled in luxury as an NBA player and now he's taking 9- to 13-hour bus rides to and from games. After the loss at UC, Texas Southern was heading out for an 8- to 9-hour ride to Wichita State for a Thursday night game. Then it will be 9 to 10 hours back to Houston. And it will take 12 to 13 hours for a Dec. 23 game at New Mexico State.
"That's the tough part," Van Exel said. "But you have to adjust. I didn't come from the NBA as far as my life, my growing up. I can get over that."
He wants to coach. And he wants to get as far as he can in the profession.
"I'm a point guard," he said. "That's what point guards do. I have a lot of passion for the game. I have a lot of knowledge of the game. And I have a lot of playbooks."
We're standing outside the Texas Southern locker room. Former UC teammates Anthony Buford and Herb Jones are nearby.
Van Exel is asked about his year's Bearcats, which are ranked No. 22 this week.
"They're very good, very talented, very big,' he said. "They use their bodies. They beat you up. We were expecting that. We tried to get our guys prepared for that.
"There are some big bodies out there. One thing about playing at this level as opposed to the level we're on, you're not going to get anything easy; you're not going to get anything cheap coming through that lane. Guys are going to knock you all over. We weren't ready for that."