The Big Ten of the early 1990s was as stacked as basketball conferences get, with college legends and NBA talent across the board.
Future pros included Calbert Cheaney of Indiana, Jim Jackson of Ohio State, Chris Webber and the Fab Five of Michigan, and one of the “Forgotten Heroes” of the Big Ten landscape: 1991-1992 Defensive Player of the Year and All-Big Ten Iowa Hawkeyes center Acie Earl.
Earl played four years in Iowa City, retiring as Iowa’s second all-time leading scorer behind program legend Roy Marble, and playing in six NCAA Tournament games en route to becoming a first round pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.
Acie also went on to play eight years overseas in 12 countries, winning three MVP awards, before writing the book ‘How to Make it Overseas: 31 Rules Every Player Must Know.’
Now a basketball trainer in North Liberty, Iowa for his company Venom Sports Training, Earl has high hopes for the #2 seeded Hawkeyes in the Big Dance, as he detailed in the following email interview with Forgotten Sports Heroes.
FSH: Your last NBA season was in 1997 with the Bucks, and you’ve been incredibly busy since then, playing overseas, teaching, selling real estate, writing books and manuals, and raising a family.
How did you get involved in coaching and working with athletes, and what’s your been favorite part of your new career?
AE: I got started when a parent asked me to train their kid and team when I was in the gym working out after I retired.
I’d say bringing and starting out kids and families in the game and getting them to high school ball and college. To date I’ve coached over 50 college players and 15 or so have made it to the Division-I level.
FSH: One of your most memorable pro games was your 40-point, 12-rebound performance in the Toronto Raptors’ inaugural season against the Celtics on April 12, 1996.
Can you describe how it felt to put on that kind of performance on the biggest stage against your former team?
AE: It was great, like a dream come true, I didn’t intend on trying to have a big game, it just happened.
FSH: If you could change one thing about your basketball career looking back, what would it be and would you do anything different?
AE: Yes, yes, maybe leave my junior year, or ask for a trade from the Celtics or probably changing agents sooner.
FSH: I remember watching you as a youngster and all I could think was of how you reminded me of my favorite big-time centers in the NBA like Patrick Ewing and David Robinson.
AE: Patrick was my favorite modern center, I wore #33 due to him and Kareem, but I wore a t-shirt under my jersey like Ewing.
FSH: What do you remember most fondly about your college career at Iowa?
AE: We had some good wins, beating Carolina, UCLA, Fab Five Michigan, but also some tough losses, UNLV, the Flying Illini and Duke three times, and Wake Forest.
FSH: One of the other things that stands out to me about those Iowa teams was that play you guys used to run where someone would do a backdoor lob, sometimes right off of the opening tip, and it pretty much always worked.
Do you remember running that particular play, and have you seen it run at any other level of basketball?
AE: No I think you’re talking about the shot lob in the zone offense or the man-to-man play where we would trick the defense into thinking it was a shot (editor’s note: watch the Hawks and Acie execute the long forgotten trick play below).
Q: Do you have any impression of the Hawkeyes basketball team this year, especially the success of Luka Garza?
AE: Oh yes, I think they are an Elite Eight, Final Four team. They’re well balanced with an inside-out game and good wings, and they’re fun to watch.
FSH: Which player did you look up to the most as a kid?
AE: Kareem and Magic were my two favorite players growing up.
FSH: Do you think the low post game for centers like yourself has become a lost art, and do you think we will see a resurgence in the coming years?
AE: It’s just a hybrid version like what we see from Luka Garza, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porziņģis, or the Joker (Nikola Jokić).
FSH: Is there anything you’d like to tell the FSH audience about your current projects, such as your books or your training business?
AE: Yes I have my eight books available on VenomSportsTraining.com and even a chance to win two autographed pictures from me with my best of all-time NBA player bracket on my site as well, where I will read off your bracket on my weekly podcast.
FSH: Thanks so much for joining us, Acie. You were one of my favorite Big Ten players to watch growing up.
AE: Thanks a lot.
Forgotten Sports Heroes is run by a small team of classic sports aficionados.