Already heralded as arguably the best men's basketball player in Northwestern history, Evan Eschmeyer (SESP98, KSM08, L08) was courted by the pros by the time he graduated. Drafted by the New Jersey Nets, he saw his image splashed on NBA rookie cards, worked up to a seven-figure salary and hit the court with the best in the game.
But by age 29, four years into his professional career, Eschmeyer's work on the hardwood came to a halt. After five knee surgeries in two years, Eschmeyer, then the Dallas Mavericks center, was told by his doctors to quit the game or risk never being able to play basketball with his future children.
"Being forced out of the NBA was one of the most difficult things I have ever been through," says Eschmeyer. "Imagine you take a world-class painter and cut off his hands so he can never paint again. All of a sudden basketball was gone, and I couldn't even play pickup with my dad."
Eschmeyer grew up dreaming of playing as a professional. His countless hours on the court during high school in New Knoxville, Ohio, paid off when Northwestern offered him a scholarship in 1993. At Northwestern the 6-foot-11 Eschmeyer earned All-America honors and led the Wildcats to a spot in the National Invitation Tournament. (He also played beside his younger brother, Jeff Eschmeyer [WCAS01], a walk-on for the Wildcats.)
After Eschmeyer finished his six-year run in Evanston (he missed his first two seasons due to injuries), he was picked up by the Nets in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. In January 2000 he suited up and played in his first professional game.
"I don't think my feet ever touched the ground," says Eschmeyer, recalling his debut in the Nets' first game of the new millennium. "I was just delirious with the whole spectrum of emotions."
Off the court, Eschmeyer was elected as a representative to the players' union. During the NBA's collective bargaining agreement he spoke for the highest-paid union members in the world, basketball players who netted an average annual salary of $4 million.
When the 2004 injury forced him into early retirement, Eschmeyer's experience working alongside top lawyers in the players' union and with an online recruiting service he co-founded, with fellow Northwestern student-athlete Ben Flammang (WCAS96), brought a career in law and business onto his radar.
He looked no further than his alma mater to help him pursue those post-NBA goals. Eschmeyer enrolled in Northwestern's elite law-business double-degree program, which draws applicants with some of the highest entrance statistics in the country.
"Whether you're an investment banker or a lawyer or a basketball player, to be able to be at the top of your profession and work with people who are the best is a gift. You learn so much from pushing yourself as you work with them," says Eschmeyer. "That's what led me to Northwestern's JD-MBA."
Having completed the three-year business and law school degrees, he is heading back to Ohio with his wife, former Wildcat All-American basketball player Kristina Divjak (C99, GC00), now a writer who is currently finishing her first book, a family story about her grandparents' survival of World War II in the former Yugoslavia.
Eschmeyer will split his time between the family farm in New Knoxville and work in Columbus and Chicago with a renewable energy fellowship for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Eschmeyer's tasks will include helping entrepreneurs start renewable energy projects and collaborating with a variety of stakeholders to assist with the implementation of a recently passed Ohio law that calls for the state to generate at least 12.5 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025.
Eschmeyer, who was heavily involved in Barack Obama's (H06) presidential campaign, continues to pursue varied interests.
"Evan's never been able to sit still," says Northwestern's director of basketball operations, John Davidson (SCS02), a friend of Eschmeyer's since he was an undergraduate. "He wants to challenge himself. He has always followed his passions, and he has many."
So even though Eschmeyer hung up his jersey, there is still life for No. 42. He's taken the lessons he learned on the court and applied them.
"Having that success at an early age and realizing a very lofty goal just reinforced my belief that if you work hard and you work smart, you can accomplish anything," says Eschmeyer. "I pride myself on being the hardest worker you'll ever find."
— Lauren Price (J08)
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