Tuesday, March 4th, 1997

Troy's "Career High"

Talk about your career highs: when Troy Manns pumped in 30 points against Xavier Sunday, it represented a true "career" high. According to Troy, his previous high, in high school or college, was 24 points in a game at George Mason. Amazingly enough, his all-time high in high school was only 19 points.

I've often thought that it's a shame that Tech was only able to have Troy on the roster for two years. He started his career at Mason, under coach Paul Westhead, whose coaching style and philosophy can best be described as "One Shot Every Seven Seconds." Troy admits that he basically spent two years playing run-and-gun and learning nothing of substance while at Mason. As a matter of fact, in terms of playing experience, I consider him to be little more than a sophomore at this point, maybe an early junior. So if it looks as if he's picked up his game lately, then it's because he's only just now getting significant playing time and getting comfortable in a good system.

Yes, it's a shame that Troy will only play a couple more games for Tech, but don't cry for the Hokies. They've got a young point guard on deck in the person of Brendan Dunlop who shows great promise. Brendan already has shown the ability to drive to the hole, a talent he no doubt developed while growing up in the Bronx. Once he rounds out his skills with an outside shot, and as his defense and passing continue to get better, he'll be a top-notch point guard, perhaps the best all-around point guard Tech has had since (gasp) Bimbo Coles. But there's a lot of real estate between Brendan Dunlop and the hallowed ground that Bimbo Coles occupies, and if Brendan gets just two-thirds of the way there, I'll be happy.

Notes from Monday's Hokie Hotline Show

Dave Braine visited Nebraska last week, accompanied by strength and conditioning coach Mike Gentry, to take a look at how the Huskers do things, and he relayed some interesting facts and statistics on the Hokie Hotline show:

  • Nebraska has 22 varsity sports, while Tech has 21.
  • Nebraska's budget is $32 million, while Tech's is $16 million (5 years ago, Nebraska's budget was at the level Tech's is now).
  • Nebraska receives no state money at all for their sports programs, so they've done it all on their own. The Huskers have sold out well over 100 football games in a row, and that helps.

Nebraska has about 25 walk-ons each year in their football program, 5 or 6 of which are offered scholarships after two years. A recent article in the Hokie Huddler detailed that in the last ten years or so, only about 50% of the players in each Tech recruiting class have made a significant impact. The extra 5 or 6 players that Nebraska is able to pad their recruiting class with each year provide some of that vaunted depth that we saw first hand in the Orange Bowl.

Lastly, and certainly not least, Mike Gentry no doubt was ready to explode with pride when he met Nebraska's defensive line coach, who told Gentry that Virginia Tech was the strongest team the Huskers played all year long. We're almost there, folks....

All in all, Dave said the trip gave him a new perspective and reaffirmed his faith that Tech is rapidly becoming one of the top athletic programs in the country. According to Dave, Tech excels over Nebraska in the following areas:

  • Tech has better football practice facilities than NU does, primarily because NU's facilities are spread out, and Tech's aren't.
  • Our strength and conditioning facilities will be as good as Nebraska's, or better, once the Merryman Center is built.
  • Tech's track facilities are better, and Tech's baseball stadium is better.

Considering that Nebraska has twice the yearly budget as Tech, those are remarkable achievements.

Other notes from the Hokie Hotline:

  • In an article in The USA Today, it was noted that only 9 Division 1 schools in the country comply with Title IX. Tech is one of them. Remember, this has all been accomplished in the last ten years, because when Athletic Director Bill Dooley (there's an oxymoron) left at the end of 1986, the women's programs were a wreck.
  • There will be no TV coverage at all of the first-round games of the A-10 tournament.
  • Lawrence White, a former Hokie fullback (#42 from 1984-1986), passed away recently.

Number 20

Last week, on the message board, I promised a "My Opinion" piece on Ace's jersey retirement. Due to the timing of my RK surgery, I was unable to strike while the iron was hot, so you probably won't see the piece (I'm too busy getting ready for Hokie Central's first birthday next Wednesday).

Most of what I wanted to say has been covered by other Ace supporters on my message board. Yes, there have been better scorers in Tech's history, and in fact, there have been many more Tech basketball players who were able to just flat-out take over a game and control it, more so than Ace ever could, and yet they never had their numbers retired (Dale Solomon and Perry Young come to mind first, and Allen Bristow was nothing to sneeze at, either).

But I challenge you to find a player who has been the complete and total package like Ace has been, on and off the court. Whereas Bimbo was an Olympian, of which there are 13 or 14 during Olympic years, Ace was a Naismith finalist, of which there are only ten each year. And yes, Ace has his shortcomings, but did you know that Dell Curry holds Tech records for the most turnovers in a season (113) and a career (388)? And you know, Bimbo never did learn how to hit the outside shot while he was at Tech.

But more so than statistics, and more so than being a good student and a good citizen, something that set Ace apart is that he was one of Tech's only, and perhaps its biggest, "marquee" player ever. It can be argued that at the collegiate level, the name "Ace Custis" has more household recognition than any Tech player ever, including Bimbo Coles or Dell Curry.

During Tech's run to the NIT championship in 1995, Ace was constantly referred to by ESPN studio anchors as "Ace Custis, SportsCenter Hero." He was featured prominently in Sports Illustrated's article on Tech athletics last year, including pictures that SI took when they visited Ace's remote Eastern Shore hometown of Eastville. By contrast, SI once sent a photographer to Blacksburg to take pictures of Bimbo, but the photos never ran in the magazine.

Ace was featured in a profile last year during halftime of a CBS Big East basketball game telecast. And just two weeks ago, during an ESPN story about athletes and their tattoos, during which Dennis Rodman was talked about ad nauseum, a shot of Ace and his famous Ace of Spades tattoo was shown.

Point being? For three or four years, Ace was Virginia Tech basketball. He has started every game in his Tech career, a streak that currently stands at 121 games. His battles with adversity are well chronicled (the deaths of two brothers, a horrendous car accident, and a career-threatening knee injury). And in the last three weeks, I have watched him play in constant pain, often running down court with his arm tucked useless by his side while he waits for pain in his shoulder to subside.

So consider this a brief "My Opinion" piece in which I've unequivocally stated my support of Ace Custis's jersey retirement. I'm looking forward to the day I can turn my eyes towards the rafters of Cassell Coliseum and see his #20 jersey hanging next to Dell's #30 and Bimbo's #12, because he deserves it just as much as the two of them ever did. They are all great players. All three of them.


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