More than 20 years after his time at Eastern Michigan University, the name Earl Boykins still means a lot to the Eagles’ athletics program. He helped put the basketball team on the national scene with two NCAA Tournament appearances in four years. In the 21 seasons since Boykins graduated from EMU, he’s had a successful NBA career with multiple teams and started his own AAU program named Boykins Basketball Academy.
Boykins, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, arrived on Eastern Michigan’s campus as a freshman prior to the 1994 season. In four years, he’d become one of the best basketball players in school history.
“I was blessed with a gift from God to even play the game of basketball. It was always fairly easy for me,” Boykins said. “Because of my height, I became very skilled and I always had confidence. My dad taught me the game. Growing up, he used to take me to the gym and I played basketball a lot. At an early age he instilled it in me to never be afraid. Never let anyone intimidate me.”
During his stint in Ypsilanti, Boykins helped the Eagles to two MAC Tournament championships and four straight MAC Tournament championship game appearances. In both 1996 and 1998, EMU advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In 1996, the Eagles pulled off a monumental upset, defeating Duke, 75-60, behind 23 points, five assists, and four steals from Boykins.
He also earned All-MAC first team honors in 1997 and 1998, and during his senior campaign, he was the second leading scorer in the entire country at 26.8 points per game. Following his junior season, Boykins was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year, joining a list of athletes that includes Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and more.
“I always believed that when I stepped on the court, I was the best player,” he said. “No matter what level."
Boykins would have his jersey retired at the Convocation Center on February 27, 2011.
“That day is a day I’ll never forget. When you’re playing basketball, jersey retirements, being in the Hall of Fame of any school, you never think about,” Boykins said. “When you’re in the midst of playing, you just want to compete and win as many games as possible. And for Eastern Michigan to recognize me as one of the all-time great players at the university is an honor. It’s an honor because when you think about how many basketball players have come through, and for my jersey to be retired is special.”
Although Boykins went undrafted and bounced around the NBA for the first several years of his career, he found a home with the Denver Nuggets when he signed a five-year deal worth $13.7 million in 2003. Boykins went to three consecutive playoffs with the Nuggets, and averaged 8.9 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.3 rebounds per game for his career.
Boykins retired from the NBA in 2012, but has remained close to the game of basketball after starting up the Boykins Basketball Academy, which offers a chance for kids to grow and improve their skill set on the court. The academy is located in Castle Rock, Colorado.
“The reason I decided to start the academy was to give back to the game. The game has given me so much so I wanted to give back. I think the reason I started my academy was to teach kids to play the game the right way. If you play the game the right way, success will come. You just have to put in the right dedication and effort and you’ll have success.”