Sports Vault: Byron Larkin helped propel Xavier basketball to new heights

Scoring record still stands almost 30 years later

CINCINNATI -- Byron Larkin reigns as Xavier basketball's all-time leading scorer, and his retired No. 23 jersey was the first to hang from the Cintas Center rafters, but he's not one to talk about his accolades as a Musketeers phenom.

When he met then-freshman Tyrique Jones a year ago, he simply extended a hand and said, "Welcome to the family."

Jones said thank you.

As he walked away, associate head coach Travis Steele said Jones ought to know that Larkin scored 2,696 points in his XU career from 1984-88.

"I would have blocked your shot," Jones said, smiling.

"No, you wouldn't," Larkin shot back.

Larkin loves telling that story, and not just because Jones ranks among his favorite Musketeers players. It seems like yesterday that Larkin, 51, was that same confident kid, ready to show Xavier and the rest of the college basketball world what he could accomplish.

 

Larkin arrived at Xavier as a sought-after basketball recruit after leading the city in scoring as a Moeller High School senior. An All-American safety on the Crusaders' football team, Larkin was recruited for both sports at Notre Dame and Michigan. He visited Purdue, Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Xavier for basketball only.

Picking Xavier and staying in Cincinnati, Larkin said, was easy.

"Wayne Morgan was the lead recruiter at the time. Bob Staak was the head coach. Wayne made me feel like I was their No. 1 recruit. I always in my mind was like, 'I'm going to go to the school that wants me the worst.' And Xavier by far came after me with guns blazing. Every time I looked up, he was there," Larkin said.

There was excitement about Xavier's program, too, following its 1984 run to the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals. Larkin watched XU's overtime defeat of Ohio State and nail-biter victory over Nebraska at the Cincinnati Gardens and knew he wanted to be part of the buzz.

Just seven games into his career, he cracked the starting lineup. He averaged 17 points as a freshman.

"I've always prided myself on not letting anybody stop me," Larkin said. "I put so much pressure on myself to perform because I never wanted someone I played against to beat me. To me, that was my driving force. Coach was like, 'Byron, your role on this team is to score.' I said, 'OK, that's what I'll do.' "

Pete Gillen

Xavier won three of four Crosstown Shootouts against the University of Cincinnati during Larkin's career, under Staak and then Pete Gillen. The Musketeers won three Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournaments (Larkin was a three-time tourney MVP) and made three NCAA tournament appearances in Gillen's first three seasons.

Larkin helped Xavier secure its first NCAA tournament win in 1987. On a team with Tyrone Hill, Stan Kimbrough, Kyle Taylor and Dexter Campbell, the Musketeers defeated Missouri 70-69 at the Hoosier Dome in Indiana. Larkin scored 29 points in the milestone win.

"That was my proudest moment at Xavier, no doubt," Larkin said. "I remember after the game, it was like, 'OK, what do we do now? We go out there and play again.' "

The Musketeers suffered a 65-60 defeat to Duke in the next round, but the tournament remained momentous for the program. Since then Xavier has advanced to the Sweet 16 eight times and the Elite Eight three times, including last season.

Larkin racked up scads of accolades, including being named a 1988 Associated Press Third Team All-American. He also was a UPI and Scripps Howard Second Team All-American. He amassed a career-high 45 points against Loyola of Chicago in the 1986 MCC Tournament semifinals.

Byron Larkin and Pete Gillen

He made 115 starts in all and scored in double figures 117 times, propelled by his playing style as a driver/slasher. Larkin excelled by driving, making contact, drawing fouls and converting free throws. He lived at the stripe, which is one reason he averaged 25.3 points his senior season.

Almost 30 years later, Larkin ranks No. 23 among all-time NCAA men's basketball career scorers.

Although the 6-foot-3 shooting guard dreamed of playing in the NBA after college, he was advised to move to point guard because of his size. Larkin did just that in camps with Milwaukee, New Jersey and Cleveland.

"I played the point, but I didn't shine," he said. "I was OK -- nobody was going to take the ball from me -- but that wasn't my thing. I thought I got kind of bad advice that way, but I had my opportunities."

After going undrafted in 1988, Larkin briefly played for the Continental Basketball Association before heading to Venezuela for five years. After his first year in the pros, he was asked to return to his football roots and try out for the Bengals.

Larkin ran the 40-yard dash, took a physical and ultimately was extended an invitation to the Bengals' camp. Just one problem: He had a tryout with the New Jersey Nets at the same time, and he could only choose one. He picked the Nets tryout.

Byron Larkin talks to the media.

When he wasn't picked up by the NBA franchise, Larkin continued his professional career abroad through 1994. His final season was split between Germany and Hong Kong, and by then he knew he wanted to be back home with his 1-year-old daughter, Avery.

Larkin bade farewell to his playing career, dove into his financial advising business and had another daughter, Sydney, in 1996. He also accepted a broadcasting position, providing Xavier basketball analysis with play-by-play announcer Joe Sunderman. This will be his 20th year.

Larkin is still everywhere at Xavier, from participating in weekly recreational pick-up games to serving as the namesake for the new hospitality area at Cintas Center. The "2,696 Zone," a homage to his point total, will be in the new Lookout section overlooking the court.

When considering his impact on Musketeers hoops, the Xavier Athletics Hall of Famer said the word that comes to mind is "proud."

"I still bleed blue," Larkin said. "And I represent the program with Joe (Sunderman). I'm really mindful of that. I'm just so impressed with how Xavier's program has evolved."

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