The Paradox, Part II

Boykins dispelled doubters to reach game's pinnacle

By Truman Reed
01/19/11

Earl Boykins

"I really didn't get the doubts until I got to high school," Boykins said. "That's when people started doubting whether I could even play Division-I basketball. "

Earl Boykins confronted high expectations from the day he began playing basketball.

Boykins, though, proved that he could carry on his father's legacy as a Cleveland playground standout.

The scrutiny that came with those high expectations soon became nothing but a speck in his rear-view mirror.

That scrutiny, however, was quickly replaced by another variety as the high expectations gave way to towering doubt.

Five foot-five inch players, Boykins' skeptics reasoned, were pretty scarce on the rich landscape of Ohio prep basketball.

"I really didn't get the doubts until I got to high school," Boykins said. "That's when people started doubting whether I could even play Division-I basketball. "

This was something new for Boykins, but rather than tuning out his doubters, he turned their doubt into fuel.

"Of course I listened to it," Boykins said. "I think everyone listens to negative things. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't listen to negative things. I just use them as motivation.

"I've never tuned it out. I always have motivation. It's easy for me to get motivation."

Boykins led the state of Ohio in scoring at better than 26 points per game as a senior in leading Cleveland Central Catholic High School to the elite eight of the Ohio state tournament. He was convinced he was ready to play Division-I college basketball.

Few D-I coaches, however, agreed with him. He did not become the object of any fierce recruiting war, but all he needed was an opportunity. When one came along, he seized it.

"I signed early, simply because Eastern Michigan told me that I could start," Boykins said. "I wanted to start at the Division-I level. I was being recruited by Iowa, but they wanted me to go to junior college. Kent and The Citadel also recruited me.

"The key was for me to play right away, and Eastern said if I signed early, I'd have to chance to start, so that's what I did."

When Boykins began his collegiate career in 1994, he was listed on the team roster at 5-7 -- two inches taller than his actual height -- supposedly because his coach was embarrassed to list his actual height and admit to having such a diminutive player on his team.

His coach obviously had no clue of what Boykins would accomplish in the ensuing four years.

Boykins boldly told his coach that he would become the best player he had ever coached. Then he proceeded to do exactly that.

He won the starting point guard job as a freshman, started 121 games over the next four years and led EMU to 87 wins during that span. Eastern won two Mid-America Conference championships and made two NCAA Tournament appearances during the Boykins era.

Behind Boykins' 23 points, the Eagles knocked off Duke in the opening round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

Boykins earned all-Mid-American Conference first-team honors in his junior and senior years.

"I had great success in college," Boykins said. "We were able to win 20 games every year. My sophomore year, we beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament. My senior year, it was strange because everyone knew who we were, and we weren't necessarily the underdog anymore.

"It was challenging, but I was surrounded by guys who were able to step up to the challenge, and we had a great senior year as well."

In his senior season, Boykins ranked second in the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship in scoring at 26.8 points per game. He left Eastern Michigan's Ypsilanti campus as the program's all-time assists leader and second-ranking all-time scorer.

Boykins was not drafted by a National Basketball Association team, but the same approach and work ethic that had helped him beat the odds in becoming a high school and college star enabled him to make the professional grade.

"I was always in a position where people didn't think I was tall enough," Boykins said. "But once I stepped on the court, I was always able to overcome it. The hardest thing for any small guy is to overcome the prejudice in this league that you can't play.

"It's difficult. You have to stay strong mentally. It makes you a tougher person. Once you're given the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it, because when you're 5-5, you're only going to be given one opportunity."

Boykins began his pro career with the Rockford Lightning of the Continental Basketball Association in 1997-98, averaging 7.4 points and 3.7 assists.

He was averaging 21.6 points and 9.2 assists with the Lightning in 1998-99 when he was called up the the NBA. He played a total of 22 games combined with New Jersey and Cleveland, averaging 3 points and 1.5 assists.

The fact that Boykins made his way to the NBA was a remarkable achievement in itself, but once he got his foot in the door, he wasn't about to leave anytime soon.

Visit bucks.com again soon for Part III of this series.

Part I | Part III