Nick Van Exel was an All-American at the University of Cincinnati, once leading the Bearcats to the Final Four, and played 13 seasons in the NBA for six teams, including one All-Star Game appearance as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
After some early troubles in the league, including an incident with a referee that caused him to receive the biggest fine in NBA history, Van Exel had a productive career and, following his retirement, he returned to the league years later as a coach. However, since the end of his playing days, he’s also had to endure watching his son go to prison for murder.
This is the story of Nick Van Exel.
Nick Van Exel helped turn around the basketball program at Cincinnati
Not academically eligible for Division I basketball after high school, Nick Van Exel spent two years at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas before joining the Cincinnati Bearcats in 1991. Head coach Bob Huggins’ Bearcats had posted an 18-12 record the season prior but Van Exel helped turn the team around, playing a crucial role as Cincinnati went 29-5 in 1991-1992, including a run to the Final Four, where they lost to the University of Michigan‘s famed Fab Five squad.
In his senior year, Nick Van Exel was a third-team AP All-American, averaging 18.3 points and 4.5 assists per game. In just two seasons, Van Exel set the Cincinnati record for most three-pointers made with 147, a record that still stands today. The Bearcats finished the season with a 27-5 record and advanced to the Elite Eight, losing to eventual champion North Carolina. The Bearcats were a combined 56-10 in Van Exel’s two seasons and have gone to the Elite Eight just once since his departure.
‘Nick the Quick’ in the NBA
Nick Van Exel was drafted 37th overall in the 1993 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were in rebuilding mode and Van Exel was immediately placed in the starting lineup, starting 80 of 81 games played in 1993-1994, earning All-Rookie Second Team honors with 13.6 points and 5.8 assists per game.
He continued his solid play throughout his five years in LA, averaging 14.9 points and 7.3 assists, earning an All-Star nod in 1998. However, he’s mostly remembered for an unfortunate incident that occurred in 1996. In a game against the Denver Nuggets, Van Exel was hit with two technical fouls for arguing with referee Ron Garretson. After getting the second technical, Van Exel charged Garretson and used his forearm to shove the official onto the scorer’s table. Van Exel was suspended for seven games and fined a then-NBA-record $25,000. He also lost approximately $161,000 in pay.
In 1998, with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal now leading the way for the Lakers, Van Exel was traded to the Denver Nuggets, where he played for parts of four seasons. He then played two seasons for the Dallas Mavericks and finished his career with a season each for the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, and San Antonio Spurs before retiring in 2006. In 880 career games, “Nick the Quick” averaged 14.4 points and 6.6 assists per game.
Nick Van Exel transitions to coaching
In 2009, Nick Van Exel continued his basketball career, hiring on as an assistant coach at Texas Southern University. A year later, he was back in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks as a player development instructor, a role he held for three seasons before becoming an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.
In 2015, Van Exel became the head coach of the NBA D-League’s Texas Legends, the minor-league affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks. One year later, he joined the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach, a position he holds to this day.
Van Exel’s son was convicted of murder in 2013
During Nick Van Exel’s first season with the Atlanta Hawks as a coach, his son, Nicky, was involved in an incident involving a longtime friend, Bradley Bassey Eyo, in which Eyo ended up dead.
Nickey Van Exel’s attorneys claimed that Van Exel and Eyo were playing around with a shotgun in December 2010 and the gun went off accidentally, fatally wounding Eyo. Van Exel claims he was unaware that the gun was loaded. Van Exel wrapped up the body and dumped it into a nearby lake, a point that was never disputed.
While Van Exel claims that he disposed of the body out of fear, prosecutors claimed that he deliberately killed Eyo and dumped the body so he wouldn’t tell anyone about a string of robberies the pair had committed. Jurors sided with the prosecution and, in 2013, Nicky Van Exel was convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Nick Van Exel actually testified in his son’s trial, breaking down while apologizing to Eyo’s family and speaking about the times he had spent with him. Nickey Van Exel is not eligible for parole until 2043.