Oct. 10, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Look up journeyman in the Webster's dictionary, and you might find a picture of Brian Skinner.
During his 13-year NBA career, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Skinner played in 607 games and started 197 with eight different teams, averaging 4.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.
And that doesn't even include the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors, the two teams who briefly held his rights in 2001 during a four-month stretch when he was traded three times.
"It was a journey; it was a chapter that I definitely appreciated," said Skinner, who is part of the 2013 Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame Class that will be inducted next Friday, Oct. 18, at the Ferrell Center. "Not many people can say that they played in the NBA, much less that they played 13 years in the NBA. God has been very good in giving me the ability to do that."
In Skinner's eyes, the journey actually began in 1995 at Baylor. Part of a Harry Miller-coached team that had to "basically start from scratch," the dominating shot-blocking center helped the Bears transition from the Southwest Conference to the Big 12, earning first-team All-SWC honors in 1996 and second-team All-Big 12 honors in his final two seasons.
"I think at one point, we had eight teams that were ranked in the top 15," Skinner said. "You were playing against all these guys that you would play against four years later in the NBA, guys like Chauncey Billups at Colorado, Tony Battie at Texas Tech, Paul Pierce at Kansas. It was one of those things where you said, `I have to play my best game every single night.' Those programs were already there. They had the players, they had the recruiting, and we were basically starting from scratch."
Also coached by Miller in high school, Skinner lost a total of just 11 games at Temple High School and came to Baylor to play with former high school teammates Roddrick Miller and Jerode (Smoaky) Banks. But Banks was killed in a car crash "two days prior to our first team meeting."
"With Smoaky being there and how well we played together, we saw the potential of what it could possibly be if we all stayed together," Skinner said. "Roddrick was like the brother I never had, honestly."
Although the Bears won just 45 games in his four seasons and never finished higher than fifth in the league, Skinner put up numbers that Baylor players are still trying to chase. Fifteen years later, he holds school records for rebounds (915), blocked shots (346), double-doubles (34) and triple-doubles (two), while ranking fifth in scoring with 1,702 points.
"I improved the most in that institution," he said. "That's where I found myself and found what I wanted to do with my life and got my degree. It was basically the starting point and the focal point for me to spend the rest of my life doing what I've been doing, to be honest."
While at Baylor, he was also part of gold medal-winning USA Basketball teams at the 1996 World Championships and the 1997 World University Games.
Drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 22nd pick overall in 1998, Skinner started a long journey that would take him to eight different cities and even one season with Benetton Treviso in Italy.
"My expectation was to make it past what was the expectation for a normal player in the NBA, which I think at the time I was drafted was like three years," he said. "It didn't really hit me until I saw what happened with (Texas Tech's) Cory Carr at Chicago. He was a phenomenal player, but there are a lot of phenomenal college players that just can't find that niche. He was a shooting guard, shot like 32 percent, and he was there for maybe two years, that was it. You have to find that one thing you do and do it well. They're not playing around in the NBA."
After surviving that rookie year with the Clippers, when he played in 21 games and averaged 4.1 points and 2.5 rebounds, "it was just one year at a time and just consistently working on bettering my game."
While he was never much of an offensive threat - his highs were 589 points as a starter with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2003-04 and an 8.7-point average in 25 games with the Sacramento Kings a year later - Skinner developed a reputation as a tough defender that could block shots and battle on the boards.
"Just tough, always there, dependable, reliable," he said. "That was my staple for being able to stay that long, where they had players that I know were way better than I was. They just had a harder time trying to figure out their niche and how to be productive and be seen but not heard sometimes."
From the Clippers to Cleveland to Philadelphia to Milwaukee back to Philly to Sacramento to Portland back to Sacramento back to Milwaukee to Phoenix back to the Clippers and back to the Bucks before finally ending up in Memphis, Skinner defied all the odds and played until he was 35 years old.
"You just have to do what you do and do it consistently and hope that that's what they need," he said. "I've had a number of guys call me who were trying to make a team, saying, `What do I need to do?' You just have to do what you do. If you try to change your game up too much, it might not be what they're looking for."
After the one season in Italy and a brief stint with Memphis in 2011-12, Skinner finally hung it up.
"I could have gone back overseas, and it was a good life experience," he said. "But I felt like it was more important for me to stay at home and be around my kids. . . . I'm a stay-at-home dad and have been for a while now. Being able to take my 14-year-old to her volleyball games and my 12-year-old to dance class, that's such a big deal."
Skinner said his 14-year-old daughter, Avery, is a 5-foot-11 freshman middle blocker in high school and "is going to be special, but I won't tell her that. She's trying to get more accolades right now than I have, and I'm like, `You've got three more years of high school. Slow down.'''
He has two other daughters, Madisen, 12; and Jada, 3; and a 2-year-old son, Brian. "After the torment of three girls, I finally got my boy," he said jokingly. "And it was well worth the wait. God is good. All my kids are healthy. It didn't matter if it was all girls or all boys, I would not complain at all."
Four years ago, while he was still playing in the NBA, Skinner made a significant donation to the university to support two areas within the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center - the Skinner Academic Gallery and the Learning Lab.
"I know this sounds cheesy, but it's the truth. Children are the foundation of our future," he said. "And you get out what you put back in."
The 37-year-old Skinner says he is "honored and blessed" to be elected to the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame. "That means you're looked at as being an elite athlete, considered one of the best at what you did. . . So, it's an honor for me to be considered for that. I never thought about it; never even dreamed about it."
Joining Skinner in the 2013 class are Texas Rangers outfielder David Murphy (baseball), Lady Bear All-American Sheila Lambert (women's basketball), track and field All-American and NCAA champion quarter-miler Brandon Couts and football's Jerry Marcontell and Walter "Pinkie" Palmer.
Tickets to the Hall of Fame Banquet, which will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Ferrell Center, are $50 each. Table sponsorships (seating for 10) are also available for $750 (individual) and $1,000 (corporate). Contact Tammy Hardin in the "B" Association office at 254-710-3045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.