June 17, 2006

Larkin still gets excited for game day

They were virtually impossible to stop during their college basketball careers.

And they occasionally proved nearly as difficult to track down afterward.

The international nature of basketball can make it hard to find some of the elite college stars and familiar names of the last generation. If they didn't go on to long NBA careers, they often left the United States in order to continue playing overseas.

But the Rivals.com staff still managed to find several notable players of the past whose names remained in their school's record books long after they left campus.

Many of the stars are former conference players of the year who delivered big performances in the regular season. Others had their brightest moments in the NCAA Tournament.

Now they're ready to relive their college memories while illuminating us on what they're doing now.

Byron Larkin , Xavier
Name: Byron Larkin
Age: 40
Residence: Cincinnati
Claim to fame: Selected as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference's player of the year in 1986 and 1988. Chosen as the most valuable player of the MCC tournament in 1986, 1987 and 1988 while leading the Musketeers to championships each of those years. Scored 29 points as Xavier upset Missouri 70-69 in the first round of the 1987 NCAA Midwest Regional for the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. Remains the school's all-time leading scorer with 2,696 points. Led Xavier in scoring each of his four years at the school. Selected as a third-team Associated Press All-American in 1986-87. Had his No. 23 jersey retired. Works now as a color commentator for Xavier radio broadcasts. Is the younger brother of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

How often he's reminded about his college career: "It happens a lot because I'm still around the game a lot. They talk about it all the time. They say, 'They need you out there tonight, Byron.' They don't say it as much as they used to because I've been out a while, but it happens a lot. A lot of people say, 'Oh yeah, I remember you.'

"I was out at my daughter's softball game the other night. Some of the young kids came up to me asking for my autograph. The kids are 8 or 9 years old, so I know they didn't see me play because they're not old enough. Their parents had told them to get my autograph. My daughter asked, 'Why would they want your autograph?' That was pretty cool."

Memories of his college career: "It really wasn't tough (playing in the same city where his brother was so famous). I've always been proud of all my brothers and what they've done. From a small age, all my brothers had a sport we loved. We played all sports, but we always had a favorite. Mine was basketball. Barry's was baseball. My oldest brother Michael's was football. This was a plan. Ever since we were small, this is what we were going to try and do. We wanted to play as much as we could. I never felt I was in the shadow of my brother at all. I was just real proud of him and enjoyed his success. I knew how hard he'd worked to put himself in that situation. It's neat to hear people talk about my brother. It makes me feel real proud.

"I had a lot of other schools that were after me Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State, Vanderbilt and USC. Those were the schools that were recruiting me. I picked Xavier because they recruited me the hardest. It didn't have to do with location (Larkin had grown up in Cincinnati). I'd made up my mind that I wanted to go where they wanted me the most. Xavier was clearly the place that recruited me the hardest. I didn't want to be a second choice. I wanted to be a first choice. I was the first choice of Xavier. That's the sole reason why I went (there).

"I never really thought about (contributing quickly). I knew I wanted to play early. I just went in there and tried as hard as I could. I tried to practice and do what the coach wanted, to get on the floor. I didn't really have any aspirations about wanting to start as a freshman. I just knew I wanted to do my best. My whole approach toward it was I just didn't want to regret not trying as hard as I could. I never wanted to look back and say I wish I had that time again. I can honestly say today that I don't feel like I wish I could do it over again because I could do better. I felt I gave it my all and took advantage of every opportunity. I had a talk with my father. He said you've got to set your goals because you're not going to get this chance again. Set your goals high and let things fall where they may. It turned out I was able to start four years, score a lot of points, win a lot of games, have a lot of great memories and make a lot of great friends.

"(Former Xavier coach Pete Gillen) was a real intense guy. He was an assistant coach at Notre Dame before he came to Xavier. This was his first job as a head coach. He just reiterated to us to try to be the best basketball players we could be and to try to be good people as well. There's a good buddy of mine, Richie Harris. I played with him two years and play golf with him all the time. We always tell stories about how Coach Gillen would motivate us by giving us that run-through-the-wall speech and get us ticked off and ready to rip somebody's head off. He cared about us more as people than basketball players. Anytime somebody screwed up and it made the paper, he'd cut out the article, sit us down and tell us, 'You don't want to be like this guy.' He was developing us as people as well as basketball players. I really respect him for that. He was paid to win basketball games, not to develop us as well-rounded men, but he took the time to do that. I thank him every day for taking the time to do that.

"I wasn't confident at all (before the Missouri game). I only packed to be there overnight because I didn't expect us to win. I just expected us to play one game, get beat and come home. Once we got out there, we really didn't see the opponent. We just went out and played the game. I just remember feeling lost after the game. We won. Now what do we do? I didn't have enough clean clothes to play again. It was up in Indianapolis, and thank God my parents drove up for the game and got me some clean clothes. It was really great to be a part of the first Xavier team to win a tournament game and to start the tradition.

"I knew (Kansas) was a really tough team. (Kansas defeated Xavier 85-72 in the first round of the 1988 NCAA Midwest Regional before going on to win the national title). Danny Manning was a great player. They had a good coach in Larry Brown. I'd known Danny and had known Coach Brown from tryouts for the Olympics, the Goodwill Games and Pan American Games. I would see those guys. I knew they had a lot of talent. They had a good team. It didn't surprise me they won the national championship because Danny Manning was a great player, and he just rallied his troops. It was a disappointment to lose that game, but no one else beat them, so it's nice they went on to win the national championship.

"(The scoring record) wasn't what I was shooting for. That was just something that was the result of challenging myself. I never wanted to run into another player and have him say, 'We stopped you.' I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a big offensive force on anyone we played. (The record) was a result of taking it game by game. I had so much confidence. I knew there was no one who could guard me out there. That was my approach. Luckily, I had a lot of good players around me who helped me score a lot of points. I had a great point guard my first two years in Ralph Lee, who was the all-time assist leader at Xavier. We'd get a lot of transition baskets. It was a fun style to play.

"I (remember) a game my sophomore year in the semifinals of the conference tournament. I scored 45 points in that game (a 99-91 victory over Loyola). I was just on fire. I was like 17-of-20 from the field. I was in that zone where every time it left my hand, I knew it was going in. We went on to win the conference championship that next game. It was at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, where the Indiana Pacers played at the time. It was a big environment with a lot on the line. It was either win or go home. It was always a special time for me. I just tuned it up and had a great game. Then we went and beat Saint Louis (in the championship game)."

Pro career: Larkin wasn't drafted by an NBA team. He never made an NBA roster despite participating in tryout camps with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets. He later went abroad and played five years in Venezuela before splitting his final pro season between Germany and Hong Kong.

"I loved playing abroad," Larkin said. "I would have preferred to play in the NBA, obviously, but I guess the knock on me was I was a little small for my position as a 6-foot-3 two guard. I was told I needed to change and play point guard to make it in the league, and I'm not a point. I'm a two guard. I was OK being a point guard, but I really stood out being a two guard.

"I didn't put my best foot forward trying to make it in the NBA. But playing overseas, I led Venezuela in scoring two of the five years I was there and won a lot of games. Even the owner of my team came back for my wedding (in Cincinnati) and wanted me to be a naturalized citizen, but five years was enough for me."

What he's doing now: "Along with broadcasting, I'm a financial adviser. I've got my own company here in Cincinnati. That's my real job. My play job is doing the games on the radio with Xavier. I really look forward to that.

"I get up in the morning, and it's kind of like when I was playing. I look forward to it when I have a game that day. It's exciting. I've got to perform, but not like the way I performed on the court. I've got the easy part, but I'm still part of a team. I travel with the team. You miss that when you're out of college athletics the camaraderie and being part of a team. You miss that when you're gone. I keep that up by not only being with the basketball team, but the broadcast team. Joe Sunderman is our play-by-play guy, and our engineer is Russ Jackson. We've got our own little team. We've got to perform, and it's exciting. We're courtside, and we get involved.

"I took a year off from playing ball and got my master's degree in finance. (My career as a financial adviser) was a result of that. It's worked out well. I've been doing it since 1992."


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