As part of his "Forgotten Legends" interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Northwestern legend Evan Eschmeyer, who ranks as the best rebounder and second-best scorer in school history. Eschmeyer is also the only NU player to ever be named First Team All-Big Ten three consecutive seasons, and he was also named an All-American before playing a few seasons in the NBA.
Jon Teitel: You missed your first two years of college basketball after breaking your foot during freshman year. How did you cope with the injury and how hard was it to get through rehab?
Evan Eschmeyer: Rehab was difficult, but it was nothing compared to the initial shock of having three doctors tell me that I would never play basketball again. Once I found a doctor who would operate on my foot and give me a good chance of recovering, I was able to put my head down and start working again. In the end, seven months on crutches and two years of rehab was not fun, but it also gave me a chance to hit the weight room and study the college game, which was a big advantage when I came back.
JT: You ended up spending six years in college, which meant you got to play with your younger brother Jeff (a walk-on). What was it like playing with your brother?
EE: Playing with Jeff was a real gift. When I left high school he was a junior high kid that I had little in common with, but by the time he arrived at Northwestern the social gap had shrunk quite a bit. Playing two seasons together helped build our relationship in a way that has had lasting effects.
JT: From 1997-1999 you were a three-time First team All-Big Ten performer (the only Wildcat to ever do that). Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
EE: I never thought of it in those terms; I was just focused on getting wins, and figured the rest would all follow from there.
JT: You played for Coach Ricky Byrdsong (who was later murdered by a white Supremacist during a hate crime shooting spree). What was he like as a coach, and how did you react after learning about his shocking death?
EE: Coach Byrdsong was an incredible human being; to this day I often reflect on things he taught me about life that I was frankly too young to appreciate. With the passing of time, getting married, and having children, many of the things he focused on continue to take on new meaning. When I learned of his death I was simply shocked. Today I marvel at Mrs. Byrdsong's strength and how she has built a legacy dedicated to fighting violence while raising her family.
JT: In 1997 you made 12 of 13 field goals against DePaul (the best FG% in a single game in school history). Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
EE: I honestly do not remember that specific game. I definitely do believe in being "in the zone," and I remember the first time I got back to the zone after my injuries. It was a game at Michigan State, and it was the first time I scored 20+ points in a college game. To me, being in the zone always felt like everyone else was in slow motion and I could anticipate their movements.
JT: In 1998 you scored a career-high 37 points against Penn State (including a school record 17 made free throws), and the following year you had a career-high 21 rebounds against the Nittany Lions. Why did you have such great success against Penn State, and do those games stand out in your mind as some of your best performances?
EE: I remember having good games against PSU. A lot of it probably had to do with the fact that they had Calvin Booth, another top-ranked center in the conference who later played in the NBA. I have always played better when I felt like I had stiff competition and something to prove.
JT: You scored 18 points in a five point loss to DePaul in the 1999 NIT (Quentin Richardson had 23 points and 10 rebounds as a freshman), and later called it "the worst game we played all year". Was it even more painful because it was your in-state rival, and could you tell at the time that Quentin Richardson was going to become a star?
EE: It just plain hurt because I was done playing college basketball. The fact it was DePaul did not make it any worse. It was obvious that Quentin was going to be good.
JT: In the summer of 1999 you were drafted in the second round by New Jersey. Did you see that as a validation of your college career or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA?
EE: It was definitely the fulfillment of a lifetime goal, and it was very surreal. It is always a little strange to be experiencing what you know is a life-changing moment in real-time, and being drafted was exactly that.
JT: From 2001-2003 you played for Dallas and made the playoffs each year. How did the playoffs compare to the regular season, and what is your favorite playoff memory?
EE: The NBA Playoffs are incredible; it is the best of the best slugging it out on the world's biggest stage. I cannot say that I have a "favorite" moment, probably because I was hurt during most of my time at Dallas and did not get to play much in the playoffs.
JT: During your career you had the chance to work as a representative to players' union. Why did you want to be a representative, and why do a bunch of rich young guys even need a union?
EE: Being a union member was a great experience for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it was a chance to improve the lives of my colleagues and teammates. I could write a book on why "a bunch of rich young guys" need a union, but for starters they would not be rich young men if they did not have a union in the first place. Collective bargaining is all about the laborers receiving a fair share of the value they help create: in the case of the NBA, the owners have made a lot of money over the last 30 years. Even franchises that may sometimes show a loss in annual revenue have experienced large growth in franchise value. It is only fair that NBA players also receive a portion of the large value they help to create.
JT: In 2004 you had to retire due to persistent knee problems that required several surgeries, and you decided to found and online recruiting service (www.bigtimerecruit.com). How hard was it to leave the NBA, and what did you accomplish with the recruiting service?
EE: The recruiting service was started in 2000 and ended around 2003. We had some early success, but also made some mistakes, and like a lot of dotcoms we went the way of the dinosaurs. However, it was a great learning experience, and it made me realize that I liked being an entrepreneur. Leaving the NBA was incredibly difficult, but I did not have a choice. When your doctor tells you that he is not going to operate on you anymore because he wants you to be able to play with your kids, there is not much to say. I still miss it, and always will.
JT: You also decided to come back to Northwestern to get your JD/MBA. Was it weird to come back to campus after all you had been through, and did people recognize you as "the all-time leading rebounder in school history" or "the tall guy who sits in front of me in class"?
EE: It was a little strange to be back at NU, but it also felt comfortable: kind of like going to visit an old friend. Some students recognized me from having played basketball, but most were more focused on their professional goals than on ESPN. What I found interesting is that all of the students I went to graduate school with had incredibly successful backgrounds (whether it was in sports, business, or the military), which gave us common traits to build relationships on.
JT: After graduating you became a volunteer at Obama for America. Why did you choose to become a volunteer, and why do you think Obama is going to be a good president?
EE: I had always been a fan of President Obama's since the early days of his campaign for the Senate, when nobody thought he had a chance. Obama's brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, was an assistant coach at NU during that time, and I had the opportunity to talk with then-Senator Obama a couple of times, which solidified my feelings. I think he has been, and will continue to be, a great president for many reasons. If I had to single out on trait, it would be his ability to bring a diverse group of thinkers to bear on a large problem and generate a consensus opinion.
JT: You and your wife Kristina (a former All-American basketball player at Northwestern) are raising twins. Is it harder to beat your wife in a game of 1-on-1 or to get any sleep with twins in your house?
EE: Sleep was a scarce commodity for the 1st year with the twins (Elijah and Alexandra), but now that they are older, everyone has been able to get more rest. I often say that Kristina was probably a better player then I was, and am sincere when I say it. Unfortunately, injuries plagued her during her last season at NU. We disagree on who won the last game of horse we played, but agree that for the sake of our marriage it should remain the last game!
JT: You currently work on issues of renewable energy. Why did you choose to enter that field, and what kind of world do you think your little ones will grow up in based on our current energy usage?
EE: I chose renewable energy because I felt it would be a growth area during my entire career and I could feel good about working in the field. Over the course of my children's lives there will be large changes both in where the energy they use comes from and in how they use it. I am not a doomsayer at all: I believe strongly in mankind's (especially America's) ability to innovate and meet challenges, which is happening right now.
Eschmeyer is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in Big Ten history.
Illinois: Dee Brown (2006) 1,812 PTS (#3), 674 AST (#2), 231 STL (#2), 299 3PM (#2), two-time All-American, conference Player of the Year
Indiana: Calbert Cheaney (1993) 2,613 PTS (#1), 55.9 FG% (#2), three-time All-American, conference Player of the Year, national Player of the Year
Iowa: Roy Marble (1989) 2,116 PTS (#1), 183 STL (#4), All-American
Michigan: Glen Rice (1989) 2,442 PTS (#1), 56.9 FG% (#3), 48 3P% (#1), All-American, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
Michigan State: Scott Skiles (1986) 2,145 PTS (#3), 645 AST (#2), 175 STL (#2), 85 FT% (#3), All-American, conference Player of the Year, national Player of the Year
Minnesota: Mychal Thompson (1978) 1,992 PTS (#1), 956 REB (#1), 56.6 FG% (#2), two-time All-American
Northwestern: Evan Eschmeyer (1999) 1,805 PTS (#2), 995 REB (#1), 132 BLK (#2), 59.5 FG% (#1), All-American
Ohio State: Jerry Lucas (1962) 1,990 PTS (#3), 1,411 REB (#1), 62.4 FG% (#1), three-time All-American, three-time conference Player of the Year, two-time national Player of the Year, two-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
Penn State: Jesse Arnelle (1955) 2,138 PTS (#1), 1,238 REB (#1), three-time All-American
Purdue: Rick Mount (1970) 2,323 PTS (#1), 84.3 FT% (#5), three-time All-American
Wisconsin: Michael Finley (1995) 2,147 PTS (#2), 371 AST (#3), 168 STL (#4), 213 3PM (#3), three-time All-American