By Daniel Paiz
It’s not everyday you to interview a professional athlete, current or retired, let alone a Denver legend like Bryant Stith. Thanks to the connectivity of social media, I was able to reach out and have a brief interview with one of the Denver Nuggets‘ key members during the 1990s. The following two-part interview is a brief glimpse into life before, during, and after basketball for the Virginia native, including how things progressed from playing in Virginia to joining the Nuggets in a battle against the Sonics.
Basketball and life in Freeman, Virginia
Freeman, Virginia is located in the south central portion of the state; it’s where Bryant Stith grew up and played football, basketball, ran track, etc. etc.. It instilled a mindset that proved instrumental in playing both collegiate and pro basketball.
“Where we lived, we are one of the five poorest localities in the state of Virginia,” Stith said. “So, while life was great for me, you know growing up, we weren’t exposed to a lot.”
Growing up in a rural area has its advantages and drawbacks. However, Stith explains while it might’ve been a bit more difficult in this part of Virginia, the area didn’t harm his efforts. Rather, it encouraged him to keep moving forward.
“We were able to make the best of what we had, we made no excuses, and we just tried to make the most of ourselves so we could be very successful later on in life,” Stith said.
Stith’s mindset not only helped him in basketball as a high school player, it also translated at the next level.
Playing basketball in Charlottesville
Academics came before athletics in the Stith household, and Bryant narrowed down his top two choices to Duke and Virginia. Both schools have solid academic reputations, and in the 1990s, both schools were competitors in the extremely tough Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Virginia was Bryant’s choice, but Duke was a close second for good reason.
“Funny story, Christian Laettner and I took three official visits together out of high school, and we had talked about playing together,” Stith said. “Christian and I forged a very good relationship over the years.”
While many college basketball fans might be familiar with what Laettner accomplished at Duke, Stith was no slouch at Virginia. From the start of his college career in 1989 until his finish in 1992, this guy was continuously earning. ACC Rookie of the Year in 1989, All-Time leading scorer at Virginia with 2,516 points, and he was the MVP during Virginia’s National Invitation Championship in 1992.
Throw in three-time First team all-ACC and AP Honorable Mention All-American awards (1990-1992) together with his #20 jersey being retired in Charlottesville, and this guy had himself a collegiate career. All of this was enough for the Denver Nuggets to select Bryant Stith with the 13th overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. His time at Virginia was instrumental in preparing him for the NBA.
“You were playing against the top competition every single game, and, I just felt that, you know when I graduated from UVA in 1992, I felt that I was NBA-ready,” Stith said.
Playing against the best of the best in college had to lay the groundwork to play against the best in the NBA. While Stith had never been to Colorado prior to getting drafted, his excitement wasn’t dulled from his lack of experience with the Mile High City.
Drafted to the Mile High City
“I didn’t know anyone west of the Mississippi, so when I went out to Denver as a 21-year old, it was a completely new experience for me,” Stith said.
“But I was so excited for the opportunity knowing where I came from, this was a once in a lifetime chance for me to do something, you know, for my family. So I went out there hungry, I went out there on a mission, and I wanted to be able to leave a legacy.”
A majority of Stith’s 10-year NBA career was in Denver, and he learned a lot from the teammates and coaches he had during his time here. Two guys in particular provided immeasurable guidance when the rookie arrived in 1992.
“Scott Hastings and Dikembe Mutombo; I relied on those two a lot, and they gave me a lot of good advice on being a professional, and you know a lot of young players don’t have that luxury,” Stith says earnestly.
His first three years in Denver were quite a rollercoaster of emotions, as the Nuggets transformed from a young team to a giant slayer. If you’re a big Nuggets fan or you were in the city in the early 1990s, then you likely recall the Nuggets playing Gary Payton and the formidable Seattle Supersonics. This team was supposed to steamroll their way through the Western Conference playoffs, that is, until they headed to the Mile High City.
That’s going to do it for part 1 of our interview with Bryant Stith. We all know how the Nuggets got past the Sonics, but what inspired them to do so? What led Stith to his current coaching career? Check back in on Wednesday, May 8th at 9:30am MST/11:30 Eastern for Part 2 of this interview.
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