Denzel Satterwhite's dreams have changed.
Three years ago, as a freshman starting point guard at Westlake, he talked openly about his hopes of playing collegiate basketball at his beloved Cincinnati and of a future NBA career.
Now, in his first and final season at Thomas Stone, the senior's focus has shifted to more immediate goals, such as helping the Cougars win the Maryland 3A South Region title and advance to the state tournament at Comcast Center.
"All that stuff back in ninth grade, that was just a dream," Satterwhite said, tugging offhandedly at the logo on his red Cincinnati T-shirt. "I've changed in a lot of ways since then. I guess I just see things as they really are now. Basketball is going to be my ticket to get out of high school, but in real life it's not going to put food on my table. I'll leave the NBA to the big-timers and high-dreamers.
"All I care about is winning now. I just want for us to go to Comcast, and I don't care what we have to do to get there as long as we make it."
In the beginning at Westlake, there were reasons for Satterwhite's outsized ambitions for the future. His athletic skills and crisp ballhandling enabled him to run the offense as a freshman, and he helped lead the Wolverines to the state 3A semifinals as a sophomore.
But Satterwhite also had a runaway temper, and his behavior caused numerous disruptions during his 2 1/2 seasons at Westlake. For all his talent on the court, he was ruled ineligible for 13 games because of academic problems, and he was benched sporadically by Coach Jimmy Ball.
Then last year, as a junior, he challenged Ball one time too many and got kicked off the team.
Frustrated by the Wolverines' six-point second quarter that left them trailing Eleanor Roosevelt 39-27 at the half, Satterwhite exploded at Ball in the locker room. He was told to take his jersey off and watch the second half from the stands.
"I admit I was hollering at him, cussing. . . . I was just letting all the frustration out," Satterwhite said. "Maybe if I had said it different, he would have listened, and I would have still been on the team. But I can't fault Coach Ball. He gave me chances. After I was ineligible, he didn't have to let me back on the squad at all, but he did. No matter if I messed up a lot or a little bit, he always gave me another chance.
"I was upset he put me off the team for trying to make a suggestion, that's all I was trying to do. Maybe how I said what I said was wrong, but I didn't mean it in that way. But I learned my lesson. I promise you, I think about everything I do now instead of just reacting."
Said Ball: "We butted heads from the beginning, but I did care about the kid. When he was ineligible, I decided that if he got his grades right, I was going to take him out to reward him and to spend some time with him. That's something I'd never done with any other kid. And we went and talked about a lot of things. I thought we were on the right track . . . but he kept being disrespectful. It got to be too much, and I had to let him go."
Satterwhite did not attend school for more than a month before moving in with his father, Willie, and enrolling at Forestville High in Prince George's County. He joined the Knights' team and started the last five games of the 2001-02 season.
When his mother, Angela, moved from Westlake to Thomas Stone territory this past summer, Satterwhite moved back with her and enrolled at Thomas Stone for his senior year.
"I had heard some stuff about him before I met him at a Gwynn Park summer league game," Thomas Stone Coach Dale Lamberth said. "He came up and told me he wanted to play for us. I told him I wasn't going to put him in the doghouse from the beginning just because of things I had heard about him. I can't go on someone else's experience. But I was going to keep a short leash.
"So we sat down and we talked about our team and what he was walking into. I couldn't say he would be a starter even though he'd be a starter on someone else's team because we had so many guys back. And I couldn't say he would be the point guard because we had a point guard. I told him he was going to have to fit in, and that it might mean coming off the bench. He said he just wanted to be a part of the team, that he just wanted to win. And I knew if that was true, then he wouldn't have any problems with me."
Satterwhite, at 5 feet 11 inches, occasionally backs up Antonio Lewis at the point but more often works from an off-guard spot. He did come off the bench for the Cougars' first eight games. Never much of a scorer, he averages 7.5 points per game but is an excellent ballhandler and passer and a much-improved rebounder. He earned his first start for Thomas Stone against his former Westlake team last Wednesday, an 85-58 victory.
"The kids accepted Denzel from Day One," Lamberth said. "They know what he's capable of. Now, is he one of the fellas? Not yet. But sharing game experiences and practice every day moves him closer all the time. But from Day One, we've welcomed him on the team regardless of past history."
Lamberth also shared a brief history lesson with Satterwhite. He said only two people on the Cougars' bench had state playoff experience: he and Satterwhite.
"I was there for two years as a player for Annapolis [1971 and 1972], and he was there with Westlake two years ago," Lamberth said. "So he understands what it took to get there. That's an experience he can share with these guys."
And it's a dream they all share.
"I just want to wake up and know that Thomas Stone is getting on a bus to Comcast," Satterwhite said. "It's that simple for me now."