Kenny Satterfield Interview: Satterfield Discusses His New York Roots, Being a McDonald's All-American, Rookie Hazing & The Basketball Tournament
Jeffrey Kee: What are some of your first memories playing basketball as a kid in New York City?
Kenny Satterfield: Just going to the basketball court outside of my building every day. Growing up, all of the kids in my neighborhood loved it and we’d all gravitate there. I started getting really serious about the game when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was lot more dedicated than the other kids in my neighborhood. That’s when I decided that I wanted to make a career out of it.
Kee: Growing up did you play with a lot of the New York playground legends?
Satterfield: Oh yeah, definitely. I was younger than they were, but I played with all the street ball legends. Reggie Freeman; we used to call him “High Five.” Then there was Robert “Master Rob” Hockett. [Former And 1 Mixtape star] Shane the Dribbling Machine, may he rest in peace. I played with John “The Franchise” Strickland. Being a young guy, I was fortunate that a lot of the older players mentored me and let me play with them, which really helped develop my game. Also, being around those guys helped me mature a lot as well. Seeing the things they were going through helped me realize what I should and shouldn’t be doing and I carried that with me throughout my career.
Kee: Was there one player in particular – either on the playground or in the NBA – who you looked up to?
Satterfield: When I was growing up, the players I really admired weren’t in the NBA. They were more so the local stars. Reggie Freeman was definitely one of them. [Former University of Texas star] Terrance Rencher was another. Bevon Robin who played at Fordham. Brian Reese who played at North Carolina. Those were the guys I looked up to.
Kee: You played at Rice High School where you developed into arguably the best player in the city. As a senior, you were selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game. What was that experience like for you?
Satterfield: It was definitely a dream come true for me. Being selected for the McDonald’s game is a goal for every kid who plays basketball, and for me to be recognized as one of the best 24 high school players in the country was a huge honor.
Some of the guys I played with in that game are still great friends of mine to this day. DerMarr Johnson is one of my best friends. Donnell Harvey is another good friend of mine. I actually spoke to Jonathan Bender a few weeks ago and I still keep in touch with Majestic Mapp too. He’s coaching right now at a boarding school in New York City. So yeah, even almost twenty years later, a lot of us are still close friends.
Kee: After high school, you went on to play at the University of Cincinnati under Bob Huggins. You and Kenyon Martin were pretty dynamic there. What was it like playing with him?
Satterfield: Playing with Kenyon was great. I learned a lot from playing with him. He was always so fiery, so being around him made me much more intense on the court. He was fantastic on defense, so anytime a defensive mistake was made on the perimeter, he would make up for it under the rim. Players would drive to the hoop thinking they had an easy basket and Kenyon would clean it up.
Kee: Following your sophomore season, you ended up leaving Cincinnati for the 2001 NBA Draft. What went into your decision to leave college early?
Satterfield: I just wanted to pursue my ultimate dream of being a pro. I felt like I had a great opportunity to be drafted, so I took it.
Kee: What were your expectations leading into the draft?
Satterfield: My expectation was that I was going to be first round pick like I had been projected to be, but I ended up slipping to the second round. Everything happens for a reason though. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to play a couple of seasons in the NBA. Most guys don’t even get that opportunity.
Kee: What was the best part about playing in the NBA?
Satterfield: Meeting the people and having the chance to get to know a lot of the players that I admired as a young kid. As a rookie, one of the best experiences I had was playing alongside [former NBA-All Star] Nick Van Exel on the Nuggets. With him being a Cincinnati legend, Nick was someone who I really respected. I had watch all of his highlights, and for me to come straight out of college and have him as my teammate was amazing.
Kee: Since you both were Cincinnati point guards, did you two have a relationship before becoming teammates?
Satterfield: I knew him a little, but not too well. Nick didn’t come back to the school very much. Being an NBA player, he was probably busy with other things during the off season. Corie Blount was always around in the summer. He was the one who first introduced me to Nick. But even though we didn’t know each other well, on the Nuggets, Nick became a big brother and father figure to me.
Kee: Professional sports has a pretty big rookie hazing culture. Did you receive any of that on the Nuggets?
Satterfield: Somewhat. There were a lot of veterans on that team, so there were always little errands that they wanted to be done. In the locker room, I had to make sure every player had a towel on their chair. If someone is thirsty, they’d make the rookies grab them a drink. I had to get donuts and carry bags from the bus to the hotel. Simple stuff like that. I’m a smart guy, so I would just do it before they’d ask.
One of the veterans on the team was George McCloud. He used to always tell me that I had it easy because when George was a rookie, the older guys on his team would put 40 pound dumbbells in their bags and make him carry them. Thankfully, I never had to do that. The vets on my team were really good to me whether it was Nick, George, Avery Johnson or James Posey. Antonio McDyess was great as well. Voshon Lenard too. They taught me a lot about the game and watched out for me off the court to make sure I was doing the right things.
Kee: It’s been reported that about 60% of NBA players go broke within five years of retirement. As someone who played in the league and overseas, what’s the key to managing your money wisely?
Satterfield: Players should enjoy their lives. They should enjoy the fruits of their labor and take care of their families, but they have to be smart about it. Don’t get big eyed. Buy the things you need, not the things you want. If there is something expensive that you really want, the smartest thing to do is to wait until your second contract to buy it because your second contract will be much bigger than your rookie deal.
Kee: After the NBA you played over a decade overseas. What was your favorite country to play in?
Satterfield: Wow, it’s hard to say. I had so many great experiences in a lot of different countries. I had a great time playing in Lebanon, which was surprising because I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The Lebanese people were very friendly. I also had a great time in Japan. Argentina was beautiful. I really didn’t have any bad experiences. Everywhere I went the people were very nice and very welcoming.
Kee: How difficult is it as an American to play overseas in countries where you don’t speak the language and don’t know much about the culture?
Satterfield: It’s difficult when you’re young. When I first left the NBA and went overseas it was very hard for me. If there aren’t a lot of veterans and there isn’t anyone on the team who can speak English then there’s a good chance you’re going to struggle. But as I continued to travel from country to country the process became much easier.
Kee: Switching over to why you’re here today; how’d you get involved with The Basketball Tournament (TBT)?
Satterfield: [Former New York Knick] John Wallace reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in playing. I told him I would be. I still play all the time. Having watched DerMarr Johnson play in it, I was familiar with the tournament from previous years. I really just want to come out here and play some competitive basketball. With my experience, I think I can really help my team [“Champions”] win.
Kee: There are a lot of big names on your team. Of course there’s Earl Boykins who played 13 years in the NBA. There’s 7’6 Mamadou N’Diaye. Is there anyone in particular that you’re looking forward to playing with?
Satterfield: I’m excited to compete with all of them. Earl is still really talented. Mamadou is going to help out a lot. We’ve got a lot of young, talented players like Vaughn Gray. I think that with Earl and I’s NBA experience we’ll have a good shot at going pretty deep in the tournament.
Kee: What are your plans for the future? Any goals of making it back to the NBA as either a coach or as an executive?
Satterfield: Yeah, maybe down the line. Right now, my main focus is taking care of my kids. My daughter is a really good player. She’s actually one of the best players in the country, so first I need to make sure that she’s being taken care and is doing the things she needs to be doing in order to be successful. After that I’ll have more time to dedicate to myself.