Cincinnati Bearcats products Ruben Patterson, DerMarr Johnson, and Kenyon Martin in 2006. (Getty Images)
Fans of Cincinnati Bearcats football know that graduates of the program who reach the NFL somehow always seem to congregate in Philadelphia. For whatever reason, the Eagles like their Bearcat products. On the current roster are Connor Barwin, Brent Celek, and Jason Kelce. Trent Cole also recently spent time in Philly, as did former Bearcats head coach Rick Minter. I was visiting Nashville last spring and a stranger pointed to my UC shirt and told me he became a Bearcats fan because he was from Philly and latched onto UC having watched the Eagles his whole life. It’s an oddity nobody can explain, but things are more bizarre on the basketball side.
Over a period of nearly 15 years, the Denver Nuggets’ roster boasted a Bearcats basketball alumni almost constantly. I knew in the back of my head that a handful of UC products played there, but I didn’t realize how prevalent it was until I started researching.
From 1997 to 2011 there was only one Denver Nuggets season in which there were no Bearcats on the roster. For five of those 14 seasons, there were multiple Bearcats. I suppose this type of thing is common with NBA factory programs like Kentucky and Kansas, but UC never has more than a handful of players in the NBA at once. To see them all spend time with one franchise is crazy.
During the 2001–02 season, there were seven Bearcats in the NBA: Corie Blount, Danny Fortson, DerMarr Johnson, Kenyon Martin, Ruben Patterson, Kenny Satterfield, and Nick Van Exel. Six of those seven players spent time with the Denver Nuggets at some point in their careers. The only player to avoid a stint in Colorado was Blount. This is perfect irony, because he boasts the most journeyed NBA career of any UC alum, having played for seven different franchises: Chicago, LA Lakers, Cleveland, Phoenix, Toronto, Golden State and Philadelphia. Yet somehow never the Nuggets.
Further adding to the bizarre nature of this whole thing: None of those six Bearcats were drafted by Denver. It would make sense if there were a scout or general manager with strong UC ties who liked the Bob Huggins brand of basketball and drafted UC guys when possible, but that’s not how it worked. Every UC Nuggets player was acquired via trade or free agency. Furthermore, the only UC product ever drafted by the Nuggets was Eddie Lee in the third round of the 1980 NBA Draft, and he never played a game for the franchise.
To come full circle, the newest Bearcat NBA player, Sean Kilpatrick, spent a 10-day contract with the Nuggets in early 2016 before finally landing a permanent home in Brooklyn.
Here’s a breakdown of the 14-year Bearcats Era in Denver:
1997–98 — Danny Fortson
1998–99 — Danny Fortson & Nick Van Exel
1999–01 — Nick Van Exel
2001–02 — Nick Van Exel & Kenny Satterfield
2002–03 — Kenny Satterfield
2004–05 — Kenyon Martin & DerMarr Johnson
2005–06 — Kenyon Martin, DerMarr Johnson, & Ruben Patterson
2006–07 — Kenyon Martin & DerMarr Johnson
2007–11 — Kenyon Martin
Danny Fortson (1997–1999) (Getty Images)
Nick Van Exel (1998–2002) (Nuggets.com)
Kenny Satterfield (2001–2003) (Getty Images)
Kenyon Martin (2004–2011) (Getty Images)
DerMarr Johnson (2004–2007) (Getty Images)
Ruben Patterson (2005–2006) (Getty Images)
Sean Kilpatrick (2016) (NBADLeague.com)