Tag Archive | "Ace Custis"

Congrats to Ace Custis, Virginia Tech’s ACC Legend

Ace_MontageEach year at the ACC Tournament they honor a “legend” from each ACC school.  This year’s legend from Virginia Tech definitely fits into that category: Ace Custis.

The Virginia peninsula native is firmly one of Tech’s 10 greatest players (and nicest guys you’ll ever meet).  His jersey is one of four hanging from the rafters of Cassell Coliseum.  Ace helped Tech to a NIT Championship in 1995 and a NCAA Tournament berth in 1996.  He is 11th on Tech’s all time scoring list (Erick Green just knocked him out of the top 10) with more than 1,700 points, he’s 3rd in rebounds with 1,177, and 7th in steals with 199.  Ace was an unselfish player and a real stat stuffer.

Ace Runs into Niemo's BP

Ace Runs into Niemo’s BP

Ace was even kind enough to stop by my bachelor party in Florida last year!  (Well, he was at port while on a cruise and we ran into him)

Two years ago, TechHoops.com ranked him the 7th greatest player in Hokies history.  Here’s a link to our interview with him and summary of his brilliant Tech career:


The ACC also did an interview with him when they announced he was Tech’s legend for this year: LINK

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#7 Ace Custis | 10 Greatest VT Players of All Time | INCLUDES AN INTERVIEW WITH ACE

Each Friday we will count down the 10 greatest basketball players in the history of Virginia Tech. This week we talk with one of the most popular Hokies of all time..

#10 Bill Matthews

#9 Jeff Allen

#8 Zabian Dowdell

Adrian “Ace” Custis | 6’8″ Forward | 1993-1997

Transcript is at the bottom of this article…

Part 1 (7 minutes) – Ace talks about everything Virginia Tech.

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Part 2 (3 minutes) – Ace talks about being in Japan during the tragic 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

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Career Numbers:

  • Points: 1706 (10th)
  • Points per Game: 13.7
  • Rebounds: 1177 (3rd)
  • Rebound Average: 9.5 (5th)
  • Steals: 199 (7th)

Of Note:

  • Ace became the third Hokie to have his jersey retired and hung from the rafters of the Cassell.  The honor was bestowed before his final home game in 1997.
  • One of just four Hokies with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds
  • First Team All-Atlantic 10 1997
  • First Team All-Atlantic 10 1996
  • First Team All-Metro Conference 1995 (finished second for player of the year)
  • Led the Metro Conference in rebounding – 1995
  • All Freshman Team, Metro Conference – 1994
  • Ace is the only player to average more than 10 rebounds per game for an entire season in the last 38 years (10.5 rpg in the 1994-95 season)
  • Featured in this 1996 Sports Illustrated Article

Why He’s in the Top 10:

If this was a popularity contest, Ace might just be #1.  He has an infectious personality that just makes you want to be around him.  I mean, how could you not love a guy nicknamed “Ace”?  Oh, and Ace also had a heck of a career.

The Virginia native was part of a golden age of Virginia Tech sports.  The football team’s bowl streak, that still lasts today, started his freshman season in 1993-94 (Ace redshirted the year before due to an ACL injury).  But Virginia Tech wasn’t just a football school.  The Hokie basketball team rose from a rough stretch under Custis and won the NIT his sophomore year and made the ncaa tournament his junior year, even cracking the top 10 in the rankings.  And Ace was the Tech star for his entire career on teams that included a lot of quality players.  Ace was named First Team all conference in two different conferences (Metro and A-10).

Ace was a fantastic rebounder, to say the least.  It is very easy to say he is Tech’s best rebounder in the last 35 years since Allan Bristow.  In Custis’s sophomore year and Metro Conference finale (the newly forming Conference USA had decided not to invite Virginia Tech and bought they out with $1 million after the 1994-95 season), Ace averaged 10.5 rebounds per game.  This is the only time in the last 38 years a Hokie has averaged double digit rebounds.  Custis was extremely consistent as a rebounder – he averaged at least 9 rebounds per game all four seasons, leading VT each year.  Only two other Hokies, John Rivers in 1990-91 and Jeff Allen this past season, have averaged 9 rebounds or more for a season since 1980.

On offense, Ace was not a flashy scorer.  He had a dependable short jumper from about 12-16 feet, but did not wander out on the perimeter (something he alludes to as a regret in  his interview).  Custis did most of his damage in the low blocks, whether it be moves inside or getting second chance points.  He didn’t have a big ego and didn’t have to be fed the ball 1,000 times per game.  Ace was fine letting Shawn Good or Damon Watlington work on the perimeter, or Shawn Smith on the other low post block.  Ace knew he’d get his points when they missed, and if they didn’t, that was good for the team and he was fine with that.  In fact, Ace wasn’t necessarily even the #1 option on offense at the end of games (he passed the ball at the end of the NIT quarterfinals for a better shot).

Custis never averaged 15 points per game for a season, and only led the Hokies in scoring two years (his last two).  That said, he still finished his career with 1706 points and still sits in 10th place all time.  That’s because Ace was extremely consistent.  You knew what you’d get every night.  Pick up the boxscore the next day and you’d see 10-18 points, 8-12 rebounds, and 1-2 steals by his name.  He was truly a team player.

Greatest Game:

Honestly, I cannot think of one, and keep in mind I was at, saw, or listened to every single one of his games his last three years.  That’s because Ace was truly a quiet superstar, and he was consistently great in all his games.  He didn’t have 30 point games.  As I said, he scored 10-18 every single night.  He pulled down double digit boards every single night.  Ace was a lunchpail guy on the hardwood, doing the dirty work to help the Hokies win.

That said, one memory does stand out in my mind.  In Ace’s senior year, he was a man among boys.  Gone were four starters from the previous year and Custis had to be the man at the end of games.  Against gw, who was one of Tech’s big A-10 rivals, the Hokies were tied at 43 (yeah, it was a rough game to watch) in early February at the Cassell.  With time running out, the Hokies got the ball to Ace and he nailed a jumper at the buzzer to give the Hokies a 45-43 win.  While it was a somewhat disappointing season, that game was memorable to me and Ace was the hero.

Team Record: 81-42 (12-12 in the Metro Conference; 20-12 in the A-10)

Before Ace suited for the Hokies, Tech had endured six losing seasons in seven years.  That ended on Ace Custis’s and Bill Foster’s watches, producing winning records in Ace’s first three years.

The Hokies went 18-10 his freshman year, flipping their record of 10-18 the year before.  But Tech got jobbed and did not receive a NIT invite.

In Custis’s sophomore year and Metro Conference finale, Tech again got jobbed, this time seeing their ncaa tournament bubble burst.  The Hokies had won 20 games and taken a very strong #3 unc team that featured Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace to the brink, as well as a strong #13 uva team, too.  Instead of pouting, the Hokies rolled through the NIT, smacking clemson at home in the first round, providence on the road in the second round.  That set the stage for one of the great moments in VT basketball history.

In the 1995 NIT quarterfinals at Virginia Tech, the Hokies jumped out to a huge double digit lead on new mexico state.  That lead slowly but surely chipped away as the game went on.  The aggies finally tied the game with a few seconds left, which led to this…

In the NIT semi-finals, Tech rolled past canisius.  The finals were a nip and tuck game, with Tech trailing marquette* 64-63.  Shawn Smith, who was approximately 6’4″ yet played power forward, got the ball in the low post where he always did his best work, got fouled, and calmly drained two free throws with less than a second left to give Virginia Tech their second NIT Championship (also in overtime), 65-64.  And I should mention the Hokies won the NIT with basically just seven players (sound familiar?).  Back in Blacksburg, Main Street had to be shut down that night as students had taken the street over, partying like it was Mardi Gras.

Ace’s junior year was one of the great seasons in VT basketball history.  The Hokies won 25 games that year, which is still tied with the 2009-10 Hokie team for most ever.  Tech was ranked the entire season, and reached #8 at one point.  The Hokies were #10 in the nation in mid-February and faced #1 massachusetts (Marcus Camby, John Calipari) at the Cassell.  Students, me included, camped out for FIVE DAYS to get tickets, enduring an ice storm.  The Cassell was rocking that day, but unfortunately Tech fell to the top-ranked minutemen 74-58.  The Hokies went 13-3 in the A-10, but lost in the first round of the A-10 Tournament and, despite being ranked #22 in the nation, received just a #9 seed in the ncaa tournament.  The Hokies beat wisconsin-green bay team in the first round but lost to #1 kentucky in the second round (that team was loaded and were led by Rick Pitino — they went on to win it all).

Custis’s senior year saw a drop in talent.  Gone were Ace’s running mates, Shawn Good, Damon Watlington, Shawn Smith, and Travis Jackson (all multi-year starters).  Tech managed to go 7-9 in the A-10, but finished just 15-16 overall and did not make the postseason.  VT would not sniff the postseason for another 10 years.

* marquette featured William Gates, one of the stars of the documentary Hoop Dreams.  Great movie, well worth watching.


What a player and what a man.  Ace is truly one of the great Hokies of all time, on and off the court.  It was a great time to be a Hokie in the mid-1990s, and Ace was BMOC. He checked his ego at the door every day, worked hard to become a great player, and gave Tech everything he had.  He overcame a lot of adversity – lost brother, murdered stepbrother, severe car accident, and torn ACL – to become a great player.  Custis was as solid as you get – a good scorer, great rebounder, and excellent low post defender.  He brought his toolbox every day.  And like Ace, every time I walk into the Cassell and look up at the rafters, I smile when I see his jersey hanging there.

Transcript of the Ace Custis Interview (linked above):

Niemo: This is Niemo with TechHoops.com with Ace Custis, one of the greatest basketball players of all time in Virginia Tech history. Ace, thanks for joining us.
Ace Custis: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Niemo: How does it feel to have your jersey hanging in the Cassell every time you make it back and be considered one of the best of all time at Tech?
Ace Custis: You know, even though I know it’s in the rafters when I go back to visit I always look up there and glance and I reflect on the night that it was retired. It’s a great feeling.

Niemo: Walk me through what lead you to on deciding to go to Virginia Tech in the first place.
Ace Custis: You know, I had, two relatives from the Eastern Shore. Quinton Nottingham played basketball for Virginia Tech back in the day. And I had some more people that go to Tech and play sports. William Boatwright was another guy. And I tried to follow them. They told me good things about Virginia Tech. So I decided to go and visit the campus. And it sold me.

Niemo: When you first got to Virginia Tech, what were your goals as a Hokie?
Ace Custis: I wanted to come in, I promised my mom that I was gonna get my degree, first and foremost. Second of all, I wanted to come in and try to earn some playing time because when they recruited me they told me I would have opportunity to get playing time right away. So I wanted to come in and work hard and show my efforts on the court so I could get a little playing time.

Niemo: And what were your keys to your growth as a player while you were at Virginia Tech, what are the things that helped you develop?
Ace Custis: I think my coaches. My coaches really, really on me trying to push me to get better and work hard. And my teammates. The closeness that we had on the court, on and off the court. I mean, that really had us, gave us the opportunity to grow as a team. And, the closeness we had resulted in a lot of wins for us.

Niemo: And that was Bill Foster was the head coach, and the late Bobby Hussey was an assistant. Tell me about those guys and how much of an influence they were on your game.
Ace Custis: Coach Hussey came and told me when I was a freshmen that his job was to make sure I was the best basketball player possible that I could be when I left Virginia Tech so he was always hard on me and giving me a hard time telling me I just need to work harder, you need to do this. You know he criticized a lot of things I did but he also complimented on the things I did well.

Niemo: Looking back on your career at Virginia Tech, what’s the thing you’re most proud of?
Ace Custis: You know the experience. The experience that I had at Virginia Tech, the university itself, the basketball players, you know we are friends for life, and just the opportunity to go there and live in Blacksburg. So you know basketball wise and academically it was a great 5 years of my life.

Niemo: I have to ask, what meant more, winning the NIT championship in ’95 or making it to the ncaa tournament in ’96?
Ace Custis: It felt better when we won the NIT because we ended our season in a win. But it was a great accomplishment making it to the NCAA Tournament, winning in the first round against Wisconsin Green Bay but then getting eliminated to the eventual champions in Kentucky.

Niemo: Yeah, I won’t get into. I won’t even get into how he got screwed on the seeding [laugh] in that one. But [laugh] that’s a story for another day. Being ranked in the top 20 all year and then drawing the number 1 seed in the entire tournament and the eventual national champion in the second round.
Ace Custis: [laugh] Yes. [laugh] Yes, we had made it as high as number 8 when we lost to UMass in the Cassell.

Niemo: Believe me. I remember that game. I think I spent 5 days camped out on the ice. In a tent to get into that game and that was to sit in the top row at a castle. So, yeah. I remember that game very well, but.
Ace Custis: [laugh]

Niemo: And you did get that degree eventually also right, like you promised your mom?
Ace Custis: I graduated with a Marketing degree and you know when I left campus I left with great memories on the court and my paper in hand.

Niemo: Now, moving ahead to your, to your career since Virginia Tech. You were playing with the Panasonic Trians this year in the Japanese League this year when the earthquake hit Japan. How close to it were you?
Ace Custis: We was actually in northern Japan. We was in an area called Tochigi, which wasn’t too close, but not too far. We felt the earthquake, but the tsunami part, we didn’t experience. I live in southern Japan, in Osaka, but we had traveled and we had just arrived around 2:00 to the hotel in Tochigi. We departed for practice at 3:30, and approximately between 2:45 to 2:50 is when the earthquake actually occurred. And it was something. I mean, it was a tremendous shake going on, and my teammates was calling to make sure I was okay and to see where I was at and everybody just ran downstairs outside. People were sitting on the ground to keep balance, I mean it was unbelievable.

Niemo: For those who weren’t there how terrible was the aftermath from what you were able to see?
Ace Custis: You know my coach, he’s roughly 65, 66 years old and he’s seen many and felt many earthquakes in his time and he said this was by far, no comparison to the most devastating earthquake that he’s ever experienced, you know. He was the elder on our team so listening to him and; we knew it was a serious earthquake and we was even in the area, the most devastated area, and you know we was kind of out far from there and it still felt like the main earthquake was happening, the center of the earthquake was happening where we was located at. I mean the hotel was shakin’, the windows in the hotel was bustin’ out, I mean it was unbelievable.

Niemo: How difficult was it for you to make it back to the United States, and how long did it take you to get back after that?
Ace Custis: I contacted my parents, my parents and my wife that night through texting because there the phone wasn’t working. The next day we were able to leave the northern part and go back south. And in the south where I was located at in Osaka there were no problems at all. You know, I stayed another two weeks before I even departed Japan to come back home and everybody was talking about the radiation in the northern part, but where I was located, people was coming from the north to the south to escape that area. And it was normal living where I was at for 2 weeks, and then, you know, once they canceled the season, the coaches and everybody said, okay. It’s okay for you all to go back home.

Niemo: You mention that the season was canceled. What are your plans for next year? Back to Japan for another year?
Ace Custis: You know, we were currently tied for first place, and I got hopes of retiring this year. I want to someday get into college basketball, I want to coach at the division 1 level and that was my plan for this summer – come home and try to land a job and with the jobs being taken up this summer and what have you, coach offered me to come back for another season to finish what we started this year and to keep an employment, I’m going back to Japan for one final season. No matter what this will be my last.

Niemo: Well, you know Tech’s got a couple openings right now. I’m sure that weighed on you mind, too.
Ace Custis: Yes they had to talk with me about the director operations job available and now with Adrian Autry departed that position’s available as well but It doesn’t look like I have the opportunity to come back to Virginia Tech to coach now.

Niemo: Now, I have to move back. As I was looking at your stats, which are very impressive. They show what a well-rounded player you were. You still rank 10th all time in scoring. You’re 3rd all time in rebounding. And you’re 7th all time in steals. But I didn’t see you in the top 10 in blocked shots. What happened there?
Ace Custis: You know, I was always told that everybody says why you don’t block shots? I guess, I was, my timing was off on block shots, or I never was aggressive enough in pursuing block shots. But, you know, this year I started to block a little more shots and it kind of felt good. This was the best year we blocking shots in my whole career.
Niemo: [laugh]
Ace Custis: One thing I wish I had done more in college is work on my perimeter game. Once I got to the Dallas Maverick’s I seen how hard the guys on the perimeter was working after practice. For instance Hubert Davis would stay after practice for hours, just shooting, shooting. So when I went overseas in order to keep a job you had to be versatile and now, I mean I’m a three point shooter – I shoot a lot of 3’s every game and I’m one of the top ten three point shooters in my league now. So when I was in college, I wish I had worked on my perimeter shooting a lot more and shot more 3s.

Niemo: You should have spent more time working with Travis Jackson I guess on the outside.
Ace Custis: Exactly. You know, it. Yes, when Travis hit that shot against New Mexico State, I was the one passing the ball. I don’t know why the guy came running to me instead of staying with Travis. I guess he didn’t see the scout report back then.
Niemo: [laugh]
Ace Custis: [laugh]

Niemo: Well, if I remember correctly, they had played less than forty-eight hours before, I think, out west. Had to travel all the way across to Tech. And then play a couple nights later in the NIT quarterfinals. So who knows. Maybe they hadn’t had time to pull together any film or, or anything like that. But, yeah, it worked out to our benefit. And you guys went up to New York, beat canisius in the semi-finals. And then marquette, who featured the guy from Hoop Dreams in the finals, on Smitty’s free throws with a couple seconds left.
Ace Custis: Yes that’s, that’s something that’s forever etched in your memory. The NIT was a great run for me. The experience of going to The Garden and, playing and winning the championship there, Shawn Smith hitting the free throws. I mean, there’s so many memories in that 2 week or 3 week period that really is embedded in my mind for life. And it’s crazy because now, playing overseas and playing in the pros or playing wherever I’ve played at since college, a lot of those guys we still run into and I see those guys and we always reminisce about those games, whether it been a Virginia Tech player or a Marquette player or some other guy that I played against during that time. We always reminisce about our college days.

Niemo: Ace, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We appreciate you sharing your memories and helping bring back a lot of fond memories for me since I overlapped with a lot of your career at Virginia Tech. I wish you the best of luck going forward.
Ace Custis: Thank you, I greatly appreciate it. Back for one more year and then hopefully a position will open up somewhere for me.
Niemo: Thanks so much, Ace.

Past Interview with Ace (from March 2010):

Random Tangent:

I found this quote from VT Head Coach Bill Foster from back in 1996 in the SI article, “In the eyes of the NCAA establishment, Virginia Tech is like a bastard at a family reunion,” Foster says. “Our acceptance is a slow process, but we’re becoming harder and harder to ignore.”

Sound familiar???

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Interview with Ace Custis | Part 2

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 is married with two sons, Charles and Ace Jr (Deuce), with a third son (Evan) expected today, March 30th!

Part 1 of the interview focused on that 1995 NIT Championship run, Ace’s Hokie career, and his memories of Virginia Tech.  Could we see Coach Custis some day?  Ace Custis Interview Part 1

Click on the Play icon below to listen to Part 2, which dives into his professional playing career and his life in general.  And he answers how he got the nickname “Ace”.

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Here is the transcript from Part 2 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: So tell me more about playing in Japan and playing for the Panasonic Trians. How’s that going?
Ace Custis: I play here in Japan. This is my seventh season here. I played the first three years with a team called OSG Phoenix and then I changed teams and I came to Panasonic.
Playing basketball here, I mean it’s great. It’s first class. They treat you with so much professionalism. Everything is on time, what I mean on time, your money, your services, anything you need is first class.
This is my fourth season here. We just won today. We advanced to the playoffs, which starts next weekend. We are the 3rd seed. We’re playing the number 2 seed. So hopefully we can go in and play well against them.
You know, playing basketball here in Japan I mean, I’ve loved it. I’ve loved it for the last 7 years. I played other places during the summertime, over the last 7 years, but you know, I really love Japan.
Niemo: You’ve also played in other places like Italy, Syria, Lebanon and the Philippines. What’s the favorite place you’ve played? Is it Japan?
Ace Custis: I’ve never played in Italy. I’ve played in the Philippines. I’ve played in Lebanon, Philippines, Syria, Qatar, Venezuela. I’ve played in a lot of different places. My favorite was probably Lebanon because everyone speaks English, basketball is so competitive, and I really, really enjoyed my time there.
Ace Custis: Japan, I really love it here. Now they’ve changed the rule the last two years that you can only have one import on the court.
So I only play 18, 19 minutes of the game. So the stats, you don’t get your own personal stats and all that which is fine with me. I’m about winning. I don’t care about the stats. But, as a competitor, I want to be on the court and during the crunch time of the game.
Niemo: Right.
Ace Custis: Some times I wanna be on the court but playing 17, 18, 19 minutes a game sometimes 20 minutes you don’t be on the court during the crunch time.
So, it is kinda difficult with this new rule. You know, a lot of my friends always say wow, you only averaged 10 points. 5 rebounds? Wow, that’s terrible. But they don’t know that I’m only playing half the game.
Niemo: [laugh] Right. Yeah I was wondering why your rebound numbers were down but that explains it
Ace Custis: My teammate now here, his name is Jerald Honeycutt, and he was in here. Yeah, he was in, he just came to hear, and when I was talking about, uh, um, Kentucky players. He’s the one told me Derek Anderson, naming some more players during our time. Um, he was like, back then I didn’t shoot 3 pointers. Now, all I do is shoot 3s.
Niemo: Yeah, I remember him from Tulane.
Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. I was checking out your stats and seeing you’re hitting about 35% and cranking up about 4 three-pointers a game.
Ace Custis: Most of the year I was like 42%. But then I ran into a little slump and I started shooting bad from 3. But, you know, playing overseas I had to adjust my game. And so I stayed in the gym, working on my perimeter game, shooting more 3s.
Because when I was with the Dallas Mavericks, I played the 2-3. So the guy’s like, “Ace, you need to work on your range”. So I stayed in the gym with Hubert Davis and we was always shooting jumpers and working out and trying to improve my range.
Now I don’t go inside too much. I like shooting the ball outside [laugh], staying outside.
Niemo: What’s the coolest place, what’s the most interesting site you’ve seen in your travels?
Ace Custis: As far as basketball?
Niemo: Well, let’s say for example I went to Rome 5 years ago and I loved the coliseum. That was really interesting for me. What’s something really neat you’ve been able to see on your travels, that stands out above the others?
Ace Custis: For me, traveling, I appreciate it. I’ve seen the world, thanks to basketball giving me the opportunity and opened doors for me. But, for me it’s a job. So, you know, my mom always tell me, “Ace, take pictures.” I’ve never taken pictures overseas.
I tell her it’s my memories. So my wife comes over and see she takes pictures, but for me, I’ve never really taken pictures. It’s a job for me.
I don’t go sightseeing. I don’t go to the mosque, and I don’t go to the temples in Japan. I don’t do all the sightseeing. I go to the gym. I go to practice. I do my job, and then I go home.
I know it sounds a little boring, but that’s how I approach.
Niemo: But hey, that’s you and that’s your work ethic. It’s gotten you a good career.
I think I know the answer to this one looking back on that answer. Do you wish you could have spent your entire career in the NBA here in the states or are you glad to have had the experiences of the world you have had?
Ace Custis: [laugh] If you told me 20 years ago that I would be playing basketball in Japan overseas, I would have laughed in your face. You know, me and Honeycutt was talking about that 2 weeks ago. Cuz you know, he was highly recruited out of high school and he was a McDonald’s All-American. He played in the NBA for a while. And we were saying, “Who thought we would be teammates in Japan?”
Playing basketball in the NBA was the greatest experience of my life, when I was with the Dallas Mavericks for that year that I was on injury reserve. I mean everything is 1st class. Everything is so professional. And even when you get injured.
The treatment that you receive is top of the line. So you get the best treatment and we are not even gonna talk about salary because, you know, playing in the NBA gives you the opportunity so you can make a good living for yourself and your family. So I would love to have had an entire career in the NBA. I look at guys that are still in the NBA from when I was playing and you know, I’m friends with a lot of those guys. I met and seen and played against in college and different tournaments. I’m happy for those guys who still in the NBA still doing their thing and still playing well.
Niemo: You mentioned you got married 8 years ago. What’s your wife’s name?
Ace Custis: Her name is Denedra, You know she went to Virginia Tech, she’s a Virginia Tech alumni as well.
And she’s having a kid too, well, not she, WE are having a kid this week coming up. She’s supposed to have the baby on Tuesday.
Niemo: Oh wow!
Ace Custis: March 30. So, you know, life, playing overseas. I can’t make it home for the delivery because we’re in the playoffs. So you know, I, I told her, I told her blame me. It’s called bad timing. I was I was a couple weeks old.
Niemo: [laugh]
Ace Custis: But you know I was not want to be there for my family, but I have a job to do and I can’t let my teammates down. And to go home for the delivery then come back because we are in the playoffs coming up. So if we lose the season’s over.
It’s a boy, and we’re gonna name him Evan.
Niemo: What are the other two sons’ names, if you don’t mind me asking?
Ace Custis: I had my other son when I was at Virginia Tech. His name is Charles. And then my second son, he’ll be five in May, his name is Adrian Custis, the 2nd. Nicknamed Deuce.
Niemo: Now let me ask you real quick how did you get the nickname Ace?
Ace Custis: Ah, my grandfather gave it to me when I was a little kid. I was always around my grandparents when I was growing up and you know, we used to cut grass, go fishing and do all the things men do. As he would say, “You know, I was his number 1 ace.” No matter what he did I’d try to do it. Emulating what he was doing. And he said I was his number 1 ace. So everyone started calling me ace in my family.
I started playing little league sports. Everybody started calling me Ace. So the newspapers and coaches and teachers and everybody continues to call me Ace. So it, it kind of stuck with me from there.
Niemo: Do you have any final thoughts or stories you’d want to share with me?
Ace Custis: You know, I’m a Hokie for life.
My kids, my family, everyone is Hokies. My mom tunes in, watches Virginia Tech no matter what it is on, on TV. It could be any sport. Any time you talk about Virginia Tech my family tunes in. And, you know we are proud Hokies.
Virginia Tech has done so much for me and I will always be proud to call myself a Hokie.
I look forward to Virginia Tech’s success in all that they do in all sports. And I will always support, and acknowledge Virginia Tech.
Niemo: Yeah that’s great. I think that’s the way pretty much all of us feel that we all feel about VT that went there.
Ace Custis: You know, in my area. I live in Suffolk. I live in Suffolk during the off-season. There are a lot of Virginia Tech alumni there. And one of the biggest supporters I ever think I’ve known is a guy named Mark Edwards. Me and him played in a 30 and over league last year. And we won the first championship in his 12 years of playing. In the 30 and over league.
And he actually played in the same practice jersey that I played in when I was at Virginia Tech. He bought it all off Ebay.
So I used my practice jersey to play in the 30 and over leagues. I went to his house and I don’t think there’s a Virginia Tech alumni with more Virginia Tech memorabilia.
He had a room dedicated to Virginia Tech.
Niemo: [laugh]
Ace Custis: To see someone so Hokie oriented, I mean that can bring a smile upon your face.
Niemo: Right, yup, I mean that’s Hokie Nation right there. Ace, thank you so much for doing this. Good luck to you with Evan coming up in a couple of days and also in the playoffs with Panasonic.
Ace Custis: Alright, appreciate it.
Niemo: Alright, thanks so much.
Congratulations in advance on the birth of your third son.
Ace Custis: I greatly appreciate it.

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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.

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