Atkins returns to his roots

As former South Florida basketball star Chucky Atkins’ talent has developed, so has his celebrity status since his graduation in 1996.

Atkins has grown into the spotlight of celebrity since breaking into the NBA with the Orlando Magic in 1999 after playing in the CBA and Croatia, then getting traded to Detroit in 2000, where he started for the Eastern Conference finalists a season ago.

“It feels the same. I still have friends that I had when I was going to school down here. I just try to do what I’ve been doing and be me,” Atkins said. “There’s nothing different, nothing new.”

Atkins made his return to Tampa Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum in an exhibition game against the Miami Heat, addressing the crowd before the game and assisting in a youth basketball clinic earlier in the day conducted by USF coach Seth Greenberg and his players.

“Chucky is a pro. He is in his fourth year now,” Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you become a real professional you can deal with those things and still play the game.”

Atkins got the chance to enjoy his homecoming playing in his college town.

“It was cool to come back home and play in Tampa where I played college ball,” Atkins said.

Atkins is one of only three men’s players whose jerseys hang from the Sun Dome rafters. He finished his career with 1,619 points and 519 assists.

With his notoriety growing along with his statistics in the NBA, Atkins still remains the same, even with the world around him treating him differently.

“It’s just the way other people treat you, more that than anything else,” Atkins said. “It’s the way other people treat you more than anything.”

His play has improved statistically, with an increase in games started from zero his rookie year to 62 last season, as well as his field goal percentage, three-point percentage, steals, blocks and points per game, along with his confidence and attitude in his game.

“I’ve seen him go from not being sure of himself to knowing that if anybody needs a big shot or a tough decision, he’s willing to do that,” Pistons forward/center Ben Wallace said. “He’s come from stage one to the final product.”

Wallace, who was Atkins’ teammate in Orlando and was traded with him for Grant Hill, has witnessed Atkins’ growth firsthand.

“You have to see a guy go from the stage where he is not sure of himself to the point right now where if it came down to anybody you want to take the last shot and make a tough decision, I think Chucky is willing to do that now,” Wallace said. “So I’ve definitely seen him grow a whole lot since I had a chance to meet him.”

Becoming a celebrity has, in effect, allowed his professionalism to grow.

“We got to talk to Chucky before the game,” USF sophomore guard Brian Swift said. “We got to ask questions about playing in the NBA.”

His homecoming did not distract Atkins’ game, as he put up eight points, including two three-pointers, in the Pistons’ 85-80 victory.

“Coming back to play in front of your home crowd isn’t pressure at all, that’s a sign of relief,” Wallace said. “Not too many guys in the league have a chance to play in front of their home crowd.

“I think him coming back here was a big thing for him to come out and show the people how he has grown as a person and a player.”

With his newfound celebrity, Atkins still keeps in mind that he is a USF alumnus.

“Anytime you are the only guy in the program that’s been around for a few years (it’s special),” Atkins said. “I’m proud to be an alumnus.”

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