Taking it one day at a time.
It’s what Washington Wizards guard and USF grad Chucky Atkins lives by as the only former Bull in the NBA.
“It is what it is,” said Atkins, who played in 111 games as a Bull from 1992 to 1996. “Sometimes I have no idea (what I’m doing for the next game). One minute I may play in the game; the next, I may not. I may play seven minutes or I may play 13 minutes. I’m just rolling with the ball.”
Atkins, who majored in systems management, has been rolling for seven seasons now, even though he went undrafted out of USF.
“This would be my 10th year if I had come out of 1996 like I was supposed to,” said Atkins, an Orlando native. “I had to take the long route, but I’ve finally gotten to where I wanted to be.”
Atkins, 31, first started with the Continental Basketball Association’s La Crosse Bobcats and Cibona – a Croatian team. He was later signed by the Orlando Magic as a free agent by now-Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who is personally responsible for bringing Atkins into the league.
“Chucky is one of my favorite players ever. Every day he plays with great joy, energy and love for the game,” Rivers said.
After just one season of playing for his hometown team, Atkins was part of the trade that brought Grant Hill from Detroit to the Magic. In four years, Atkins appeared in 371 games for the Pistons before being traded to Boston in February, 2004 – just months before Detroit went on to win the World Championship.
Then, after being traded to play out west for the Los Angeles Lakers, Atkins went on to start all 82 games of the 2004-2005 season, averaging 12 points and five assists per game.
But when coach Phil Jackson came back for his second stint with the Lakers, it was back east for Atkins in a trade to the Wizards that saw him swapped for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit.
“It’s been a tough transition,” Atkins said. “I’m used to playing 35 minutes a game last season to now not knowing when or where I’m going to play next. It would be tough for anyone.”
But having taken a hodgepodge journey such as Atkins has isn’t all for naught. It’s earned him respect from his current coach.
“I admire his resiliency,” said Eddie Jordan, coach of the 7-8 Wizards. “He had to start his career overseas and has done a great job to become a good NBA player. He worked really hard to get to this level.”
His coach isn’t alone. Atkins has spread some kind of wisdom – not to mention hope – to those players wanting more than the glory of a college career.
“You’d be amazed at the kind of stories you’d hear about how guys got into the NBA,” teammate Gilbert Arenas said. “He’s done so much to get here, but he appreciates it. I know it’s hard for him right now, as well. After his season last year, starting all 82 games, now he’s here fighting for time. He doesn’t deserve (to play as little as he does).”
Atkins’ floor time has dropped off considerably this season, playing in only 14 of the team’s 15 games; he’s averaging only 16 minutes a game, compared to 36 minutes, and has a mere 29 points.
But it doesn’t mean he isn’t contributing.
“Chucky is a fierce competitor,” Jordan said. “He is a good shooter who can come off the bench and provide a spark for us. He is a veteran player who has postseason experience and has played and thrived in some big games over his career, and his experience will certainly help us throughout the season.”
“He’s professional about it,” he said. “He’s a fighter; he’s still upbeat. He’s not a cancer to the team like some guys, being negative, trying to get in everybody’s ear and trying to fight everyone. He’s positive.”
There are three numbers that hang from the rafters of the Sun Dome. Atkins’ No. 12 is one of them. It’s why Atkins doesn’t mind being inspiration for other players, whether they come from USF or not.
“Sometimes, I just hope some people draw some hope from me,” said Atkins, who finished fifth on USF’s all-time scoring list with 1,619 points. “Listen: If I can do it, basically anyone can do it.
“I’m pretty sure there are plenty of guys to go through South Florida since I’ve been there that have more athletic ability than me and more God-given gifts. It’s all about believing in yourself and really wanting it.”
Atkins also cherishes his memories as a Bull.
“My time there was great,” he said. “I made a lot of great friends that I still keep in contact with, and I’m glad to see the school on the good road and going into a good conference.”
Even USF’s men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum smiles at the memories he has of Atkins.
“Most of our guys are aware of what he did (at USF),” McCullum said. “He came here and had a great career. When I was at the University of Florida, he wasn’t very highly recruited. I knew he wanted to come to Florida.
“I did get to spend a week coaching him in the summer of ’95 when (former Florida coach) Lon Krueger coached the World University Team.”
Atkins was an alternate on the 1995 team, which went 7-0 and sported a roster of Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Kerry Kittles and Ray Allen.
“He’s worked hard and had to play overseas,” McCullum said. “It’s hard not to have an appreciation for a guy like that.”
Those who know Atkins best can tell he likes things simple. He’ll tell anyone that.
“I love a lot of fundamentals,” Atkins said. “In basketball, there are a lot of them. Discipline is one of them, and that’s one I learned from (former USF coach Bobby) Paschal. It’s not all about individual achievement. You’re not just judged by your individual job, but by your team’s production.”
Paschal, who coached Atkins all four years and has followed his career since, said he didn’t teach Atkins about fundamentals.
“I can’t take credit necessarily for the things I taught him,” Paschal said. “He was already very well coached before USF.
“Chucky is all about winning and all about the team. I think that got ingrained in him in high school.”
Paschal led the Bulls to a NIT berth and a combined record of 48-64, and in 1996, he felt Atkins would be drafted.
“We’d really thought he’d go somewhere in the middle of the second round,” said Paschal, who retired in 1996 after nine seasons, a 127-159 record, two NIT berths and two NCAA Tournament berths. “He was disappointed, there was no question about that. We talked later, and I said, ‘As disappointed as not getting picked could be, it also could turn out to be a blessing.’ And as disappointed as he was, the most important thing for him to do was to work extremely hard to get what he wanted.”
According to Paschal, he did the basic fundamentals, and playing basketball for Atkins is not about money.
“He went out to play basketball, not to get rich,” Paschal said, “but to do just that: play basketball. It was his goal to enjoy playing and to play at the highest level. That’s always been Chucky.”
Paschal claimed Atkins was disciplined prior to his arrival USF, making him an appealing recruit out of high school who was overlooked by larger programs in the state.
But it was Paschal who Atkins claimed helped him become the player he is today, teaching him not just additional discipline, but punctuality as well.
“Paschal taught me to always be on time and just patience,” Atkins said. “I learned a lot over my four years of success (at USF). He was a great person to be around, not only as a great coach, but as a great lesson on how to become a man.”
But with the Wizards, it’s back to uncertainty, and Atkins is still rolling with the ball.
“I don’t know where (I’ll be in five years),” Atkins said. “I just don’t. I’m dealing there, and I’m fine that way. Hopefully, I have five more years in me. Maybe I don’t. I could still be in the NBA; if not, I’ll be home playing with my kids.”
Turns out patience came in handy.