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Interview with Ace Custis | Part 1

Interview with Ace Custis | Part 1

With March 29th marking the 15th anniversary of Virginia Tech’s 1995 NIT Championship Game win over marquette, Niemo spoke with the star of that team, Adrian “Ace” Custis, right after he helped his Panasonic Trians team clinch a playoff spot in the Japanese Professional League.

Ace was the ultimate team player at Virginia Tech, but he still stands tall in the Virginia Tech record books.  He ranks:

  • 9th all time in points with 1706
  • 3rd all time in rebounds with 1177
  • 6th all time in steals with 199
  • First Team All-Metro Conference in 1995 and First Team All-Atlantic 10 in 1996 and 1997

At the end of his career, Ace’s #20 was retired and hangs from the rafters of Cassell Coliseum, one of just four retired numbers.

Part 1 of the interview focuses on that 1995 NIT Championship run, Ace’s Hokie career, and his memories of Virginia Tech.  Could we see Coach Custis some day?  Click the Play icon below to listen to the interview to find out.

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Part 2, which will be posted on Tuesday evening, dives into his professional playing career and his life in general.  And he answers how he got the nickname “Ace”.

Here is the transcript from Part 1 if you cannot listen to it.  Please note the transcript was done by a third party so please excuse any typos, misunderstandings, and the capitalization of other schools.

Niemo: The 1995 NIT Championship was 15 years ago Monday, tell me what comes to mind when you hear that.
Ace Custis: Travis Jackson’s shot against New Mexico State. Shawn Smith hitting the free throws against Marquette in Madison Square Garden. It seems like yesterday, but 15 years, wow, time has passed so fast.
Niemo: Right, right. [laugh] You mentioned the, the shot by Travis from the left elbow extended at the end of the New Mexico State game [at the end of the NIT Quarterfinal game to propel VT to New York], and then the madness after that of everyone running out on the court. What was that like?
Ace Custis: Actually, I was kinda scared because I was on the bottom of the pile, and that was my first time being on the bottom of the pile. And if you’ve never been on the bottom of the pile, that’s somewhere you don’t wanna be.
I mean I remember that day so vivid because I was on the bottom and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move.
Niemo: [laugh]
Ace Custis: The pile’s getting heavier and heavier. And I’ve, I’ve always been a thin framed person. So, that was kinda hurting.
Ace Custis: I was kind of nervous, and then I was so excited when the pile loosened up and everyone started standing up and started celebrating. So, wow, what a moment. I really remember that.
Ace Custis: Everybody always joked me, why didn’t I take the shot at the top of the key when I caught it and I reversed it to Travis. But, I thought he had a better look, so I gave it to him and, you know, Travis he, even in practice, Travis always got nice sweet jumper.
Ace Custis: Very soft jumper, so I, you know? I was taking my chance on Travis hitting the open jump shot. And he came through and hit the jump shot.
Niemo: Well hey, it worked out.
Ace Custis: Yes.
Niemo: And then the Marquette game [in the NIT Championship], that came down to two free throws by Smitty at the very end, when we were down by one point, with just a couple seconds left. Walk me through what those final seconds were like.
Ace Custis: Yes, I remember Shawn Smith getting fouled. It was actually 0.7 seconds left in the game. And then they called time out. We went to the bench. And he was real calm on the bench. And he was like, “You know, no problem. I got these 2 free throws.”
And when we were back on the court he called he sank the 2 free throws with 0.7 seconds you know, he came through in a tough situation.
Niemo: Right, right, yup, definitely. And then what was that like after the game? What was the celebration like up in New York?
Ace Custis: You know, Quinton being my cousin. He came to the hotel. And we celebrated. You know, and we partied. Had fun in the hotel. And got back on the plane and went home the next day.
It’s a moment in life that I’ll never forget. Being in Madison Square Garden, Shawn hitting those free throws, cutting down the nets, and celebrating. You know, we were celebrating because we won the NIT.
But we also were celebrating because we knew we deserved to be in the NCAA tournament. But we wanted to prove that we belonged in the tournament so that was our whole goal going to the NIT proving that we should’ve been in the NCAA tournament.
Niemo: Right.
Yeah, I mean you guys were a team that played #3, North Carolina, very tough down in Greensboro that year and also #13 UVA, losing by just 1 point when they were ranked in the top 15 too.
Ace Custis: UMass was number 1 and we were number 8 at the time, we played them at Cassell Coliseum.
That, that just shows, you know, over the years when we were on the borderline at Virginia Tech. When we were on the borderline of making the NCAA/NIT we always end up in the NIT You know the guys had a good run this year. I was watching and following the NIT this year.
And, you know, I talked to Malcolm a couple times, Delaney a couple times on Facebook, wishing him luck and, hoping they made it to the championship. They came up a little short against Rhode Island, but I’m happy for the team. They play hard, stay together as a unit.
Niemo: There may be big things next year with them, too.
Ace Custis: Yes, one positive thing about it [in 1995], we got the experience of the NIT. Same thing happened my sophomore year. We won the NIT and we had a very young team. So, we came back the next year. Our goal was the NCAA tournament and we made it to the NCAA.
Niemo: Right.
Ace Custis: Unlucky for us, we ran into Kentucky who eventually won the NCAA championship that year. We played them in the second round in Dallas, Texas.
So, you know, that was our whole motivation. We don’t want to go back to NIT, we want to go to the NCAA. That’s what we did. So hopefully the guys this year at Virginia Tech have the same in target. They want to go to the NCAA this year.
Niemo: Well, the committee couldn’t keep you out of the NCAA tournament in ‘96, but they did kind of screw you guys by giving you, I think you were either a number eight or a number nine seat and then obviously had that win over Wisconsin-Green Bay and then got stuck with that juggernaut Kentucky team that I think had, who’d they have? They had Mashburn?
Ace Custis: No, they didn’t have Mashburn. They had uh, Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Tony Delk. They had Derek Anderson.
Let me see who uh, I can’t remember who else they have but those that keep.
Niemo: Yeah right there, at least 3 guys have played, played in the NBA for a while, so.
Ace Custis: And that’s the year he won the NCAA tournament.
Niemo: Yes. Now, let me ask you about that. Which meant more, winning the NIT the year before, or making it to the second round of the Big Dance the following year?
Ace Custis: You know, everybody want to make it to the NCAA tournament. But, for me, I had more gratification in winning the NIT tournament because we ended the season on a winning note. And only two teams ended the season on a winning note. That’s the NIT champions and the NCAA champions. And we ended the season on a good note and it was a good run for us.
And, by winning the championship you know, that was very gratifying for me. Um, personally, but you know.
Niemo: It gave you a lot of momentum and going into the offseason.
Ace Custis: Exactly. But you know, the NCAA you know, everybody wanna make it to the NCAA with the Hokie chances of making it to the championship. But, we got the unlucky draw facing the number 1 seed in the second round that was actually playing well at the time.
Niemo: Right. Yeah, and I, I don’t know how much you know about this. But obviously that NIT title meant a lot to the students, too. We shut down Main Street that night. Everyone just filtered out of their dorms and apartments and fraternity houses.
And streamed downtown and, and shut down the street for several hours, just going nuts. We turned it into Bourbon Street more or less.
Ace Custis: Yeah, I still remember that night. We were in New York. And we were in the hotel, and everybody was saying that Main Street downtown, back then it was Arnold’s. They said Arnold’s had shut down, everything, everybody had poured out into the streets, college park apartments. They was having like people was burning sofas and were celebrating by the pool in College Park Apartments. I mean, we were up in New York and people was calling us on the cell phones telling us what was going on in Blacksburg.
And when we came back, you know everybody welcomed us. And Lord knows with open arms. And then, we came back downtown, it was a whole other party for us.
Niemo: [laugh] Ahh that’s great.
Which of your former teammates do you still stay in touch with from your playing days.
Ace Custis: Basically, I’m in touch with everybody. Whenever anybody wants somebody’s number they always call me and ask me for a person’s number because I never lost contact with many of the players. If I don’t have that number I know how to get that number. And then, now with Facebook.
I’m pretty much in contact with everybody. I talk to everybody on a regular basis, especially during summertime when I’m in the States. I always stay in contact with everybody. And when they had the NIT reunion a couple years ago, at Cassell Coliseum.
The organizer for that Jimmy Lawrence, called me and got everybody phone numbers because he was trying to get in contact with everybody.
Niemo: [laugh]
Ace Custis: I was so close to those guys and, you know, we were such a family. I want to get into coaching after I finish my career and playing, and I want to instill in my players what we experienced as a unit at Virginia Tech during those years.
Because, we were a true family.
Ace Custis: On and off the court.
Niemo: Now you know a couple of your former teammates are back in the area. David’s obviously [David Jackson's] helping out with the program. As a strength and conditioning coach. And then Shawn Good’s the head coach over at Christiansburg. Is there a chance you might make it back to the Blacksburg area someday?
Ace Custis: I would love to be in Blacksburg. Last year they had that opening at Virginia Tech. I had called Seth Greenberg trying to get onto the staff. I would love to be on Virginia Tech’s staff one day, if possible, but you know…
Out of respect he said, honestly he needed somebody with recruiting experience. And that I do not have. I have the knowledge and everything of basketball, but the recruitment aspect, I don’t have that.
You know I respect what Seth’s doing for the program. He means a whole lot to Virginia Tech. So I wasn’t upset when he told me he needed somebody with experience in recruiting. So I would love to be in Blacksburg.
Living and raising my family because what greater place to raise a family then Blacksburg.
Niemo: Right, exactly. Now off the court, what were your favorite memories of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech?
Ace Custis: Ah, I mean I have so many memories of there.
Niemo: I see Arnold’s, Arnold’s must have been one, huh?
Ace Custis: You know, I crossed paths with Arnold’s a couple of times or two. [laugh] You know, I have a whole lot of memories, just having house parties and playing spades, and just the camaraderie, you know, being with the football players and the student body as a whole. I’m a people’s person. So, I wasn’t always around the basketball players even though they were my extended family, away from home. I was always involved in other activities, going to other parties, being around other people, just meeting and greeting and enjoying my college experience.
Niemo: Now you ranked ninth all time on the scoring list, third in rebounds, and sixth in steals. What do you think was your best attribute as a player when you were at Virginia Tech?
Ace Custis: Solid coaches, great players around, you know.
We didn’t care about stats. And a lot of times in today’s basketball game a lot of players care about their own numbers. But back then, we didn’t care who received the ink, as we said back then. We didn’t care who received the ink in the newspaper.
We never, we didn’t care who got the post-game interviews. All we cared about was the W’s. So, you know, I’m not, I wasn’t a big time scorer, or whatever. But my teammates, Shawn Good, Damon Wallington, those guys found me when I was open.
And Coach Hussey, he always told me, “Ace, work hard and everything will work its way out”. It upset me when I was unable to attend his funeral a couple years ago.
And you know, he came to my wedding when I got married eight years ago. And he gave a speech at my wedding. And you know, he was really, really, really a person that I looked up to.
I still stay in contact with his wife. I call and check on his wife to make sure she’s doin’ fine. And because of the type of person he was, when I first came to Virginia Tech he told me in his office, “Ace, my job is to make sure you the best basketball player possible when you leave Virginia Tech. And all I asked you to do is meet me halfway.”
And he said through my work ethic then there would be a brighter side to it. And that’s what happened. I stayed in the gym and worked on my game and tried to improve and do the little things that he asked me to do. And it not only became, made me a better basketball player, it made me a better person.
Niemo: Now you may not have cared about the ink but you’ve got pretty good ink now. When you go through the Virginia Tech record books and see where you rank all time. We interviewed Virginia Tech’s legend at the ACC tournament this year, Chris Smith who played in the late ‘60s, he has some pretty gaudy rebounding numbers but, [laugh], of the guys that have played since him in the modern era, you may have the highest rebounding numbers from here on out.
He was averaging about 20 rebounds a game for the, his last 3 years of his career which is pretty insane but, you know, the guys since then you by far have the highest rebounding numbers and I was actually surprised you weren’t in the top 10 in, in block shots.
Ace Custis: Wow.
Oh, no, I was never a shot blocker. If I block a shot it was by mistake. The ball found my hand [laugh].
Niemo: [laugh]
END FIRST PART Check back Tuesday night for Part 2.

This post was written by:

- who has written 1217 posts on Tech Hoops.

Niemo is a member of the VT Class of '98. While not a professional journalist by any stretch, Niemo analyzes and breaks down every minute of Hokie hoop action. He also researches topics of interest such as Hokie recruits, program revenue, statistical data on the team, previews VT opponents, and discusses his favorite bourbons/Scotches. In addition to his passion for Hokie hoops, Niemo has attended 126 straight VT football home games (every game since '94), eclipsing the 100 mark in September of '09 and recently attended his 20th consecutive VT/uva game. During the final home basketball game of his senior year, he was brought onto the court and was awarded 2 passes to the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament in Philly during a timeout for being a "Super Fan" during his time at VT. The Hokie Bird made the award on behalf of Athletic Director Jim Weaver. Niemo was known to be in the front row of every home game with his familiar red afro hairdo.

Contact the author | Visit the author's website | Follow Niemo on Twitter

  • daveywoods

    That is an outstanding interview. I think that is the best post I’ve ever read here, you know, except for my musings on how great the ACC is. Good stuff. Sure, I’ve had a couple beers. So what. Its still super great. Wilco! Super. I like you Betty.

  • vtgobbler

    Ace was the best. I wish him all the best. I hope he finds his way back to Blacksburg. Great interview. Thanks

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