Acker still trying for an NBA Xplosion
IT was almost two years ago now that Chris Acker made national news, his name appearing in the fine print of every sports section in the country. And the reaction was unanimous:
"Some people," he said then, "are like, 'Wow, what are you doing?' "
Acker, the 6-foot-1 Chaminade sub who had averaged around five points and 13 minutes per game, had declared early for the NBA Draft. Yes, really.
"He's a great kid," his coach, Aaron Griess, said then, after emphasizing what a momentous mistake this was. And that just about summed it up. He got good grades. He was on Chaminade's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He was on track to graduate and had a full ride. And then he went and did something absurd and decided he of all people was going to go pro.
A crazy cautionary tale.
Funny thing, though.
Almost two years later, "I don't regret it at all," he said. "It was just a situation where I knew I could play."
He's averaging 18 points a game for the Pittsburgh Xplosion, which opens the ABA playoffs with a home game tomorrow night.
He's happy. "I've been doing real well," Acker said yesterday (his cell number still starts "8-0-8"). He loves it. He feels good, thinks his future is headed in the right direction.
He's making, he said when asked, about $1,400 a month, definitely not NBA money. But he's young and it's a job and he's playing basketball every day.
True, the (new) ABA is definitely not the NBA. In fact, the would-be Hawaii franchise closed almost before it even opened, which should tell you something. "It's a totally different league than the NBA," Acker said. "This is a running and trapping league, guys just running around. On offense there are no real set plays."
But the conditioning and speed and talent in the league are still incredible, at times. Armon Gilliam and Eric Mobley are on his team. Longtime NBA and (old) ABA pro and 1962 All-NCAA Tournament honoree Tom Thacker is Acker's coach.
And Pittsburgh, which hasn't had pro basketball since Dr. J starred in a certain B-movie, is catching the playoff buzz, Acker said.
(He played the first part of this season with the Detroit Wheels -- his brother Alex is a rookie with the Pistons -- and in Motown, the ABA was decidedly minor league.)
He hit for 27 in his Xplosion debut, and he's having a great time. He's hoping -- they all are, probably -- if Pittsburgh can advance far enough in the playoffs he'll get noticed; maybe play in someone's summer league.
This whole adventure never made anything short of perfect sense to him. He just wanted to play, and that wasn't happening at Chaminade, not really. He didn't click with his college coach, he and Griess had differing opinions about what he had to offer. That happens sometimes. It happens all the time, actually.
He said he's probably two semesters away from graduating, and that's still a goal, too.
But he didn't want to be one of those guys who would always look back on his basketball career and think he could have done more.
"I was never scared," Acker said.
That's not to say it was easy. At first he went overseas, to Portugal. The memory makes him laugh now.
"It was a different experience," he said. "It was a tough one." The foreign language. The foreign everything.
"It took a lot of discipline to stick it out," he said. But he did it, and he played well. He was proving something to himself.
And it's paying off now. In Detroit, he may as well have been home, as that's where most of his family moved when his brother made the Pistons. But Pittsburgh? After Portugal, Pittsburgh was a breeze. Now he's in the playoffs, and he's playing basketball, and that's all he ever wanted to do.
He's not in the NBA. (He would say not yet -- he's played in a summer league and with the big boys with his brother, and said he holds his own.) But that's not the point. Yes, his decision might have looked insane, but he's happy with it, even in hindsight now. He's at peace with having made that leap. Having left when he did. In his mind, it's already worked out.
"I really appreciate the opportunity Chaminade gave me for an education," he said. "I don't hold any grudges. I always tell people that's where I went to school."