In just a few short years, Kenny Atkinson has seen the face of the Knickerbockers change around him. Now, as a new era in the club’s history unfolds, he has a clear picture of what it will take to bring the team to the next level.
“I think the first issue is chemistry,” says Atkinson, currently in his third season on the Knicks’ coaching staff. “Whenever you have so many new players, you have to integrate them and get everybody on the same page. Mike will do a great job with that. Then the big thing is to help these guys get better. They get better themselves and we’re there in a supporting role. For a coach, it’s the most exciting thing, to have young players with a lot of talent and great potential. To get them better, that’s really the best thing about where we’re going and what we’re doing.”
Atkinson, 43, joined the Knicks staff on Aug. 6, 2008 and brought a strong background in the international game, player development and scouting to New York. The Long Island native is in his fourth overall NBA season. In 2007-08, he served as Director of Player Development for the Houston Rockets.
“Kenny develops young guys exceptionally well,” says Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. “He’s doing a great job with Toney Douglas and he’ll continue to do that. We’ll put other players with him this year. He’s another guy that just gets on the floor. He’s very passionate, extremely hard-working. He’s a very big asset for the New York Knicks.”
Raised in Huntington, NY, Atkinson joined the Knicks after a decade-and-a-half of playing and coaching overseas.
“This is Utopia, this is what everybody dreams of,” says Atkinson. “To be working in a great environment with the New York Knicks and you’re around your family, I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
“You have to experience New York for yourself,” he continues. “I think the greatest thing about it is that the fans have been incredible. We sell out most of our games; we’ve had great support. Hopefully we’ll get off to a good start and get them really involved.”
Atkinson’s NBA career follows an overseas odyssey in which he became a student of the international game. Kenny joined the Rockets in 2007 following three years as Director of Player Development/assistant coach for the Paris Basket Racing Club in France (2004-06). He has served as a Reebok EuroCamp Coach in Treviso, Italy during the summers of 2005 through 2010. He spent the summer of 2006 as Director of Player Development/assistant coach for the national team of the Republic of Georgia. In summer 2009, he participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders trip to Mexico City.
Prior to starting his coaching career in 2004, Atkinson played professionally in Italy, France, Germany and Spain from 1991 to 2004. He had tryouts with several NBA teams, including the Knicks in summer 1991.
“I would say my formation as a coach is more from an international standpoint,” says Kenny. “That’s where I learned to coach, and there’s a big emphasis on skill work and shooting; an up-tempo and open style that’s predicated on good skills.”
Atkinson enjoyed a standout collegiate career at the University of Richmond. Kenny helped lead the Spiders to an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance with a 9.0 scoring average in 1987-88. As a senior co-captain, he scored a team-high 18.9 points in 1989-90, and earned All-CAA First Team honors as both a junior and senior.
Born on Jun. 2, 1967 in Huntington, NY, Kenny’s extended family still lives on Long Island. A graduate of St. Anthony’s High School (South Huntington, NY), Atkinson earned a degree in economics from Richmond in 1990. Kenny and his wife Laura live in Pleasantville, a village synonymous with extraordinary neighborliness, volunteerism, tranquility and tolerance, with their son Anthony (3) and daughter Annika (six months).