At a time when NBA players can basically exit the court, shower, throw on a suit and become a head coach, Jerry Stackhouse is taking the longer route.
After an 18-year career as a player that pulled him through eight teams and 970 games, the two-time all-star is three weeks into a new life as a Raptors assistant coach, working under Dwane Casey.
“When (you’re a player) you leave the gym, you leave the court and you pretty much go home,” Stackhouse said Monday, after an extended shooting workout with point guard Cory Joseph. “Now it’s more game-planning and spending time talking about how adjustments are made and how people play, but I’m enjoying every bit of it.”
The 40-year-old is active on the court every day with the Raptors, often working with the guards and never shying away from putting his six-foot-six, 218-pound frame into drills to add some game-like physicality for his players. He still has that somewhat unorthodox squat in his shooting stance, his left hand still uncomfortably drifting in front of the ball on its release.
Even if it looked like it shouldn’t have worked, it did. He scored 16,409 points in that long career and he’s banking on that, plus his winding journey as a player to help him act as a bridge of sorts between Casey and the players.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” Stackhouse said, with a retro pair of Filas on his feet, a throwback to when he had his own shoe in the mid-1990s.
“I’ve been on every seat on that bench. From a star player to the guy who got all the touches, to the guy who had to redefine their role to still maximize their potential in the league. As my career was ending, it came down to being more of a mentor and still having a role within the team where you may not play every night or get a ton of minutes, but when you get your minutes knowing how to be effective. That’s what I bring to the table that probably quite frankly nobody else does. I embrace that.”
With the pre-season coming to an end, it’s far too soon to try to evaluate anyone’s impact, but Stackhouse is working hard in a way that he’s never had to before to create his spot on the coaching staff and within the organization. He might assert himself more with Joseph, who’s never been a starter and is still just 24, than with shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who’s been an all-star and is in his seventh year in the league.
“A lot of times you have to observe, see things,” he said. “And it’s only the first month, we haven’t even made a cut yet. When we cut down and get in more of an intimate environment, that’s where you start to build social equity and learning how to talk to guys and understanding … how you spend your time eating, on the road laughing, that’s how you build up that social equity to talk with the candour that’s really necessary to be successful.”
Casey knows Stackhouse well, having worked with him as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2008-09 season.
“He’d been coaching his AAU team in Atlanta, and looking to get into the NBA,” Casey said. “He’s a good basketball mind and gives a lot of feel from a player’s perspective, which is important and he has a good feel for the young players. He’s going to be an excellent addition to our staff.”
Joseph feigned remembering a time when Stackhouse played, making “he’s so old” jokes after Sunday night’s win over Cleveland and again on Monday, but he’s appreciating the time with his new coach.
“He did great stuff in this league. He’s been a mentor,” Joseph said. “Everybody knows Jerry Stackhouse. Eighteen years in the league, when not many guys get to 10. The way he takes care of his body, how professional he is … it’s not only on the court that he teaches me.”
An aggressor his entire career, Stackhouse is adapting as a coach. He frequently mentions the value in observing. He admits that he would have jumped at the opportunities that Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher were afforded in Brooklyn and New York, respectively, quickly moving from players to coaches, but he’s happy to be where he is right now.
“I would have loved to have coached the Brooklyn Nets. That was a team I knew very well. I think I was better prepared because I‘d been coaching AAU basketball for three or four years,” he said. “But everyone’s path is different. Now that I’m actually in it, I don’t think I was necessarily as ready as I could be, if I’d just learned a little more and observed more.
“Between the lines, you’re not going to lose me there. But kind of … auxiliary things, where I’m seeing and figuring out how I would do this or that, would I do this the same way or would I treat it different? I’m making those mental notes.”
We have two ears and one mouth, it’s put to him, and he laughs.
“Two ears, one mouth. Two eyes and one mouth,” he said.
“(It’s important to) spend a little more time listening than you do talking.”