This edition of the Bearcats Blog countdown could be one of the shortest. It's about the oldest player on the list. Not quite as old as Herb Jones, but close. It's about Nick Van Exel. I don't really have anything else to say for the opening paragraph. Normally I can stretch this part out a couple hundred words or so, but not this time. It happens. I'm sure when Nick Van Exel sits down with his laptop and a cup of coffee surfing the internet, he will not spit his coffee out and throw the cup at the screen because of the lack of length of this paragraph. Instead, he will find it very weird that I know what he's doing. I have eyes on you, Van Exel.
Nick Van Exel
Nick Van Exel came to Cincinnati before the 1991-92 season as a junior college transfer. He played only 2 years in a Cincinnati uniform. That goes to show that length of a stay doesn't determine the impact of the stay. Carmelo Anthony is loved at Syracuse and he stayed there 1 season. There is a reason it's been 20 years since Nick wore his number 31 and is still remembered as a Bearcat legend. He won't get his uniform in the rafters, but in the hearts of many, it already is. That sentence was an example of me going for the blogger Pulitzer. In my head, they have a Pulitzer prize for blogs.
We all have a team that roped us in to loving Cincinnati basketball. I highly doubt anyone just picked a UC team and went "Ok, that is my team. Here we go 2007 Bearcats." You could have done that, but it would not have been very smart because that was a very bad Cincinnati team. Luckily for me, the first year of basketball watching that I clearly remember games from was the 91-92 season. I watched basketball before that, but that was the team that stuck with me. Luckily for me, it was a great team to watch. UC played a frantic style that was different than most of the nation. They had a great coach in Bob Huggins. The uniforms were pretty sweet. They had it all. Including Van Exel.
Nick made 144-323 field goals, 45%, his first year as a Bearcat. He was 62-163 from 3, 38%. He hit 68-101, 67.3% from the foul line. Van Exel score 418 points. He dished out 99 assists, pulled in 87 rebounds, made 43 steals and blocked 6 shots. He averaged 12.3 points, 2.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals a game. Van Exel was the 3rd leading scorer on the team during the regular season. He led the team in assists and was second behind Anthony Buford in steals. Van Exel didn't start until the middle of January. UC went 18-2 with him in the lineup.
The Bearcats opened the NCAA tournament with Delaware. The Blue Hens were no match for Van Exel and company. NVE was 6-11 from the field, 2-2 at the foul line, for a game high 18 points. He had a game high 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Cincinnati matched up with a Michigan State team they had lost to earlier in the season next. Van Exel was horrible from the field, 1-9, but made up for it by going 4-4 at the free throw line. He passed out 5 assists in the 72-65 win. The Bearcats had another tight one next against UTEP. Van Exel scored 12 points on 4-6 shooting, 2-3 FTs, in the 69-67 win. Up next was Memphis State. UC had beaten Memphis by an average of 10 points a game. They beat Memphis State by 29 points on this night. Van Exel was 8-11, 4-5 from 3, for 22 points. He had 5 boards and 3 assists. For the first time since 1963, UC was in the Final Four. Van Exel played pretty well against Michigan in the Final Four. He had a game high 21 points on 7-15 shooting. He was just 5-10 at the foul line though. Van Exel had 5 boards and 5 assists. UC shot just 26-64 in the loss.
It's weird how memory works. Most of the things I thought happened with the 92 team happened with the 93 team. The Indiana game that was on ESPN where UC was down 31-19 at halftime, that was 93. UC lost to Indiana in 92 as well, so I give myself a break. The play that most UC fans associate with Van Exel happened in 93. I swear it happened in 92, but I am very wrong.
The play happened during the Xavier game. Right before halftime, Xavier missed a shot. Nick Van Exel got the ball to half court. And......
That shot has stuck with me almost 20 years. I had probably seen a halfcourt shot before. But none like that. UC went on to beat Xavier. I remember Van Exel hit a ton of 3s in a game, he hit 8 of 15 against Temple. Both of those were UC records at the time. The other game that absolutely sticks out is the Great Midwest championship game against Memphis State. Cincinnati had a 14 game winning streak snapped at Memphis. Even though UC beat Memphis by 23 to close the regular season, the rubber match was in Memphis. Despite Penny Hardaway, the Bearcats beat the Tigers and won the Great Midwest tournament. It was a great night during a great year.
Speaking of great years, Nick Van Exel had one of the best in UC history in the 92-93 season. He was 198-513, 39% from the field. He hit 85 of 248, 34% from 3. That was probably the UC record back in 1992. His 248 attempts are still in the top 5. Van Exel scored 568 points. He dished out 138 assists, pulled down 75 rebounds, forced 55 steals and blocked 3 shots. All that added up to a 18.3 point, 4.4 assist, 2.4 rebound, 1.8 steals stat line. Van Exel was honored as first team All-Great Midwest. He was named a 3rd team All American by the AP and a few other sources.
The Bearcats were a 2 seed in the 93 tournament. UC opened with Coppin State. Coppin kept things close in the first half, eventually taking a lead. They cut the UC lead to 6 in the second half, but the Bearcats were much better and won 93-66. Not a lot of that was because of Van Exel. He was just 3-11 for 7 points. He did have 6 assists. The Bearcats tore up New Mexico State 92-55 in the second round. UC was up 88-39 at one point. That wasn't because of Van Exel. He was 1-9 for 3 points. He had another high assist game with 7. Van Exel hit the first 2 shots of the game against Virginia to put UC up 5-0. Then he missed 15 of 16. After Virginia took a lead with under 12 minutes to go, Van Exel drilled a pair of 3s to power a 14-2 run that sent UC to the Elite 8. Van Exel was just 6-21, 4-5 at the foul line, for his game high 19 points. He had a double double with 11 assists. Nick Van Exel came out on fire against North Carolina in the Elite 8. In the first 15 minutes, he hit 6 threes and was outscoring UNC 21-20. UC was up 13. The Tar Heels closed to 37-36 at the half. Van Exel had some early assists in the second half, but did nothing the last 10 minutes or in overtime. He finished with 23 points on 8-24 shooting.
Nick Van Exel scored 986 points as a Cincinnati Bearcat, 15.2 average. He averaged 3.6 assists a game. He led the Bearcats to heights that they would never reach again. Cincinnati has been to one Elite 8 since 1993. They've been to just 3 Sweet 16s, including the E8 year, since.
Why He Made the List
Nick Van Exel set the tone for the Bearcats of the 90s. He played tough defense. He made big shots. He talked a lot of trash. More importantly, he backed that trash talking up. Cincinnati teams got a bad reputation because of the talking, and other things, but that didn't matter when they won. UC lost 7 games when Nick Van Exel started. They were 45-7. If AD Jackson doesn't get hurt against Coppin State, maybe they go to back to back Final Fours. We will never know. What we do know, is that Nick Van Exel was a great player.
What He's Doing Now
After being drafted by the Lakers, Van Exel played 12 years in the NBA. In a strange twist of fate, he made 35.8% of his 3s in the NBA. He made 35.8% of his 3s at Cincinnati. You can say that Nick Van Exel was a career 35.8% 3 point shooter and you would be correct. As for what he's doing now, I believe Van Exel is a part of the Atlanta Hawks player development team.