Between now and the Final Four, Erin Sharoni of Showtime’s “Jim Rome on Showtime” will be interviewing a handful of NCAA greats exclusively here at SLAMonline. Each player is featured on Thuzio, an online marketplace to connect the public with professional athletes for appearances, coaching, speaking and unique fan experiences. First up is Georgia Tech’s Kenny Anderson, recently named one of the 75 all-time greats as part of 75 years of March Madness.—Ed.
SLAM: What’s your favorite college basketball memory?
Kenny Anderson: That’s a deep question, there’s so many. I’d have to say, making the Final Four as a freshman. I was a brash freshman, the No. 1 recruit. We had a great start to the season, and I had made a prediction that we were going to the Final Four, so making it was a big honor, as a freshman leading that team. It was the highlight of my career.
SLAM: Do you still get excited for March Madness?
KA: I get goosebumps because I was there, I know what those kids are going through. I had a great run my freshman year Tournament. It’s an awesome feeling because you’re playing for yourself, you’re playing for that Championship. It’s just you and your team and all that hoopla, that fanfare, each week. It’s one game and you’re done, so you’ve got to be on your A-game. It’s really exciting. Every year when it comes around I get goosebumps. This year is going to be special because the NCAA is honoring me. It’s a big honor. They’re honoring the top 75 All-Time March Madness Players (part of the 75 Years of March Madness celebration), and I made the 49th player. It’s definitely a big honor and something I’ll remember as long as I live. It’s really gratifying.
SLAM: Did you have any game superstitions or pre-game rituals? Any that worked?
KA: I just went with the flow of things. In high school, college and even now, I worried a lot. I worried about everything, so I just wanted to relax. I had no superstitions, just went with the flow of things. What I did always used to say, going into a big game, was to tell myself to make believe there was no one in the stands and that I was back home in LeFrak, in the park. I used to say that to myself to calm down. Before a big game I’d say, Let me just play like I’m back in LeFrak Park, with no one in the stands; just relax, just play. It helped me. I stated that the night before [a game], and I stated it during warmups and all of that. It calmed me down and relaxed me, and that’s what I needed.
SLAM: What prompted you to leave Georgia Tech after only two years? If you could do it over again would you make a different decision?
KA: It worked out for me, but I didn’t want to leave my sophomore year, I wanted to stay in school and leave my junior year, but my coach told me I was going to be one of the top-three picks. So I had to make the jump. I really didn’t want to leave; I was having too much fun in Atlanta and at Georgia Tech. We always fear what we don’t know on the other side. I just wasn’t really ready to leave. I was having fun, enjoying the college life with no responsibilities except for going to school, going to class and just playing. I enjoyed it. But I knew I had to take care of my family, so I made the jump even though I wasn’t 100 percent. That’s why my interview, when I decided to come out, was very emotional for me.
SLAM: After you left Georgia Tech, you were drafted by the Nets in 1991 and you were the youngest player in the League. Was that challenging?
KA: Well, I didn’t look at it like that, when I realized I was the youngest. I didn’t play my rookie year for different reasons…I played some minutes and did extremely well when I was in the game, but it was a blessing in disguise for me because I sat back and waited my turn and worked hard and just waited for the opportunity. Due to the fact that I was in the metropolitan area, being from New York City, and having been a high school star, dealing with some of the media that I dealt with in high school, I was able to [handle it]. It was great for me as my supporting team was there—my mother, my family, my friends, LeFrak—I was close to home, so it was a great situation for me to be in as far as having support off the court.
SLAM: What was the most distinct difference for you in terms of playing in college versus playing in the NBA?
KA: Georgia Tech was the best two years of my life playing basketball, for the joy of it. [College] is a little purer than the NBA. Pure in the sense that you’re just playing for the fun and the love of it. I played 14 years in the NBA. It was OK, but it was a way to take care of my mother and my family financially. It’s a lot when you’re young and you’re playing, and it’s your job. You deal with a lot of politics as far as the owners, the GMs, the coaches—it’s just not all basketball. There’s a lot of stuff that goes with it. I was more relaxed and happier when I played in college. My two years at Georgia Tech were unbelievable. That’s just how I feel to this day. Am I blessed to have played 14 years in the NBA? Yes. I was able to get myself out of the ghetto, the inner city, and take care of my mother, and that was my main motivation. I’m blessed to have played in the NBA. But as far as basketball goes, my four years in high school and my two years at Georgia Tech was the greatest time in my life. It was unbelievable, and something I’ll never forget.
SLAM: You’re a featured Thuzio athlete—what do you most look forward to experiencing with a fan?
KA: I’m great with the fans because they made us. Especially in the NBA, they help you build a brand. I do a lot of stuff with kids now. It’s great to interact with fans because they get to see another side of you. All they do is read articles—but do they really know their favorite athletes? Most people really don’t. Thuzio is great because they get to see that there’s more to us than just basketball or football, or whatever sport we play.
SLAM: Who was your favorite athlete growing up, and what’s your dream fan experience, if you could create one?
KA: Being from New York City and growing up in the playground, I only looked up to Kenny Smith—his brother was my mentor, Vincent Smith—Kenny was from LeFrank, a little older than me, and I looked up to him because I wanted to do what he was doing and do it better than him. He went to North Carolina and I didn’t want to go to NC; I went to Georgia Tech so I was still in the ACC Conference. I wanted to make my own footprints. He went to Molloy High School, and I went to Molloy High School. I wanted to break all his records, and I did. He’s the only one I looked up to. He’s someone that I love. I didn’t look up to Magic or Isiah, I didn’t know them, I couldn’t touch them, so it really didn’t matter to me. Kenny is who I wanted to be like, and not only be like, but be better than.