Kenny Anderson is a true legend in the heart of New York City. His journey to greatness began at an incredibly young age, even before he reached double digits. By the time he entered the 6th grade, Anderson had already earned recognition as one of the nation’s most promising basketball prospects, with college recruiters from all corners of the country taking notice. Hailing from the challenging environment of LeFrak City’s projects, he faced the tough streets of LeFrak on a daily basis. However, Anderson harnessed his intellect and extraordinary basketball talents to amass a remarkable collection of accolades and awards while attending Molloy High School in Briarwood, Queens.
Upon his high school graduation, Kenny Anderson held the distinction of being a four-time Parade All-American, a feat achieved by only a select few, such as Lew Alcindor. He was also the first player to earn All-City honors four times. In addition to these accomplishments, Anderson garnered recognition as a McDonald’s All American, New York State Mr. Basketball, and was honored as the High School Basketball Player of the Year by Gatorade. Yet, his most cherished achievement occurred in 1989, when he received a full scholarship to Georgia Tech, bringing him one step closer to realizing his dream of making it to the NBA.
During his time at Georgia Tech, Anderson joined forces with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver, forming the renowned trio known as “Lethal Weapon 3.” This superstar trio guided Georgia Tech to the NCAA Final Four, where they faced an ultimate defeat against Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon’s formidable UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. With numerous accomplishments under his belt, Kenny decided to forego his final two years at Georgia Tech and enter the NBA draft, an important turning point in his career. In 1991, the New Jersey Nets selected Anderson as the 2nd pick in the NBA draft, and Anderson quickly emerged as the Nets floor general. Just three years later, Kenny was an NBA All-Star.
Today, Kenny Anderson serves as the head basketball coach at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. In the first installment of a three-part interview series, Andrew Polaniecki sat down with Kenny to delve into topics such as his life, upbringing on the streets of New York, his decision to choose Georgia Tech, and his journey to becoming a young basketball sensation while attending Molloy High School.
Andrew Polaniecki: KA! What’s up, bro? How you doing?
Kenny Anderson: What’s going on, man, I’m doing great.
AP: Let’s go all the way back to where everything started for you in LeFrak City.
KA: Growing up in LeFrak City was awesome. I loved it. I loved growing up there. I was a child, and Lefrak City as you know, it’s the projects and everything was different. When I first moved in, the supermarket was walking distance, right across the street. We didn’t have to go far for anything. I went to Molloy High School and the train to Molloy was right down the block. I got to my high school in 30 minutes, everything was so close. And the neighborhood was like that. I knew everybody in my neighborhood. Everybody wanted me to succeed, so they kept me away from all the bullshit, all the bad people, and things like that. So, it was just awesome. I became, a childhood phenom, even before college… high school, really, just growing up playing in the summer league, citywide, playing with Riverside Church Hawks, and things just blew up from there.
Talk about the New York City playground scene of the 80’s. You grew up in that scene and became a NYC playground legend. What was special about that scene, the competition, and how you were able to make it to the next level.
KA: I was able to make it to the next level because of my peers who hung around. I didn’t have great whereabouts, but I had great mentors. They would tell me I had to go to school, I would have to do great and necessary things to get me to play basketball. This is where Molloy came in. Playing in the playgrounds gave me my experience in the playground, but I went to school. I went to one of the top schools in the country, Archbishop Molloy. It was an all-boys school. I got both worlds. Going into the hood, living in the hood. Going to a catholic school with whites, blacks, Chinese, Italians, everybody. I was in a melting pot in high school, and I learned about life, and dealing with my team. I loved my school. It still means everything to me. Academically... everything. My math teacher was Miss Longerano, and I got an 80 on my math Regents exam. I was so happy. Little things like that. I remember at my graduation; they dedicated 15 minutes to all my awards. It was just awesome going to Molloy High School, and not just for basketball.
Do you think that going to Molloy and growing up in LeFrak prepared you for the NBA?
KA: Oh yeah. Going to Molloy and then living in LeFrak, I had both worlds. I had the wildness of LeFrak, and then I matured through Molloy, I learned a lot. It was just awesome. I really give a lot of credit for the way I was raised at my high school. One of my math teachers was a math genius, Brother Terrence. He passed away but he was a math genius, and he helped me. He tutored me, and Ms. Longerano, and Ms. Lonergan, my biology teacher. So many great people and it wasn’t just because of basketball. It was just good people that cared, and I learned. So, when I went in there I didn’t know, but they just cared about me academically to want it. So, I would go after class and say I needed help, and they would help me. Certain students nowadays don’t do that. It was just a great school for me. I don’t talk about it enough, but my high school means the world to me.
Was there a moment in your childhood that you can recall, or that you can pinpoint to, that you thought to yourself, I got something special.
KA: My freshman year in high school when I won the city championship. And this is awesome, my high school coach when I made the team at Archbishop Molloy High School... I just wanted to make the team; I didn’t care. He brought me into the offense, and he said to me you’re not going to start.
That was refreshing to me because I didn’t care about starting, I just wanted to make the team as a freshman, that was something you couldn’t do. No one makes the team as a freshman. Played a whole year and all that. So, I made it. And I came off the bench. Played three quarters. And I averaged like 23 points in three quarters.
When did the recruitment letters start to come?
KA: That was crazy, man. I had a box full of recruitment letters. My high school coach Jack Curran would tell me that I wasn’t going to get them until my junior year, but I had tons and tons of letters. Every school in the country.
Which school was your top choice?
KA- My top choice was Syracuse and Georgia Tech.
So how did you end up deciding on GT?
KA: My mother (laughing). This is a crazy story because I wanted to go to Syracuse. Pearl Washington went to Syracuse and many of the great, great guards from New York went to Syracuse. I wanted to go to Syracuse. I went on my visit. I had a great time, and then I went on my visit to Georgia, and it was great too. The Southern Hospitality… it was kind of crazy because my mom came up with me. She did, she came to my visit to Georgia Tech. And it was just awesome too. But I didn’t know the talent level we had at Georgia Tech. We had Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott. And then when I chose to go there, we had the number one recruiting class that year. There was Malcolm Mackey from Chattanooga, Ivano Newbill from Georgia, Darryl Barnes from New York, who went through Franklin K. Lane. It was just awesome for me to be there.
At first, I wasn’t sure though. The first month when I was in school, I just wasn’t sure if we were going to be the powerhouse like we were. Syracuse had all the stars. So, if I had gone there, I would have played with Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens… there were like five draft choices there. Five players that I thought to myself wow, I’ll go to Syracuse, I’ll fit right in there. Sherman Douglas was leaving, so I would’ve come in and been the starting point guard. That’s where I wanted to go. But my mother said, “Hey, you’re going to Georgia Tech and that’s it.
No arguing with Mom.
KA: Yeah, that was it.
Do you remember the first time that you, BO (Brian Oliver), and 3D (Dennis Scott) clicked and Lethal Weapon formed?
KA: I remember we were 10-0, and then we played Duke that year and we lost. It was a very close game but we lost. We were 10-0 though before that, I do remember, and then we started clicking in practice. We had a very good team. At the time Dennis Scott was thinking about leaving and going pro and he had to be ready for it. Brian Oliver was the heart of our team, the captain. And I learned a lot. I learned how to be captain through Brian Oliver. I watched and that’s what type of player I was. I was very humble going into Georgia Tech. Being that I was the number one recruit it didn’t matter. I just wanted to ft in. And, you know, to this day, our team at Georgia Tech, we are still really close. We stay in touch with each other. We check in to see how everybody’s doing with their family and things of that nature. We got a group text thread going on with our whole team, including Coach Cremins. It’s just a great nucleus, that’s what we really live by. It’s not so much basketball with us. It’s about life.
In 1990 Georgia Tech made it to the Final Four against UNLV. What do you remember from that game?
KA: They were the number one team throughout the game. So, they were really powerful. They had Stacy Augmon, Anderson Hunt, Larry Johnson, and Greg Anthony. So, they had it too. But we wanted to beat them so badly, and I knew we could compete when anybody that year. We lost just six games that whole year. We were 28-6. You know, but we had me, D-Scott, and Brian Oliver. We were Lethal Weapon 3, they dubbed us. So, it was just a matter of time. And we were going into the halftime by seven points. And then I got in foul trouble. And it kind of hurt my time and they went up a little bit. We ended up losing by 9 points, but I remember thinking it was a great, great Final four. Just being in there, and being down there with my family, it was awesome.
It was so funny though because I got sick. I couldn’t do any of the activities because my stomach got so upset. I was in a groove trying to get ready for the game, I just remember going through that. It was awful.
What was the coach’s game plan to try and slow down LJ and Augmon, do you remember?
KA: See that’s the thing, we only worried about our game plan. That’s what it was. We played our game; we knew we had to defend. We got Larry Johnson to foul out, but Stacey Augmon had a big game, Anderson Hunt… those two players really owned us.
You and I have spoken about this play many times, but, for the readers, break it down through your eyes one of the greatest moves in NCAA history that you pulled off on Bobby Hurley.
KA: That was just playing off straight sheer instinct. We were playing Duke in our house, and it was just so exciting to be playing in a game like that. Hurley reached, and you know, I just handled the rock. Like I normally do... you know what I mean? It was straight instinct. I just played off instinct.
Yeah bro, just from being out with you so many times over the years, I know firsthand people still approach you about that play.
KA: Yeah man, that’s going to be a lifetime move, you know, a lifetime move, lifetime! I just laugh at it, say hey man it was just one of those days, you know, I was feeling it.
Did you and Bobby ever talk about the play after?
KA: Yeah, he’s in my documentary, Mr. Chibbs. He’s a real classy guy. That move we watched in the documentary, and it was funny, because he explained it and he said it was just one of those nights, man. He stepped up the plate, but it was just one of those nights (laughing).
You got him. Got him good!
Back in 1991, the top two NCAA players in the country were between you and Larry Johnson. But now, back at GT, both 3D and BO are gone. Were their departures from Georgia Tech the leading factor behind you deciding to forego your final two years? Or were there other reasons why you didn’t choose to stay?
KA: I was going to stay my junior year. I wasn’t ready to go. I was having too much fun. I just loved the chemistry of the team. And wanted to stay in the city I love. I didn’t know though; I didn’t know the other side. If I went another season without an injury, I would still be a 1, 2, or 3 pick the following year. But my coach said, “Hey Kenny, you’re going to go first, second, or third in the NBA draft this year, you need to get out of here.”
So, I decided to come out. It was really close. I made my decision in like 24 hours. My coach recruited Travis Best to Georgia Tech. Travis is a great, great man. I love Travis, and I would’ve played with him but I had to get out of there. So, I chose to go pro.
Continued in part two, coming soon.