Suns News

Stoudemire’s Passion to Be Great Thrills Suns

Suns forward Amaré Stoudemire has averaged 16.1 points and 8.9 rebounds since coming directly from high school to the NBA.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)
Paul Coro
The Arizona Republic
April 11, 2004

Amare Stoudemire talked about wanting to be the greatest player ever.

Jerry Colangelo said Stoudemire would be the best player he ever drafted.

Danny Ainge had a hunch, saying before the 2002 draft that Stoudemire may prove to be the best of the bunch.

Nearly two years after the Suns plucked Stoudemire out of Orlando's Cypress Creek High School, he is making those grand hopes sound a lot more sane than those who said Phoenix should have used its No. 9 pick on Indiana's Jared Jeffries.

The Suns have no regrets in taking a raw talent with a 29-inch waist, huge hands and a 7 1/2-foot wingspan that lets him reach 9 feet high flat-footed.

The potential and patience that was promised when Stoudemire, 21, was drafted has given way to production and popularity. He has become the face of the franchise and the centerpiece of the future.

Even though the cellar-dweller Suns took a step backward this year, Project Amare is ahead of schedule. He has averaged more points (16.1) and rebounds (8.9) in his first two seasons combined than any NBA player who came straight out of high school.

What keeps showing up is Stoudemire's willingness to work, whether it is in practice or garbage minutes.

"I want to keep playing," he said. "I don't want the season to be over so quick."

That is because there is still much work to be done, particularly after losing 27 games to toe and ankle injuries.

If the ceiling were not so promising, there might be red lights flashing over the Suns' 9-20 record since Stoudemire's Feb. 4 return. But Stoudemire has lacked a post partner to help create space for him, and he has gone from operating with an All-Star point guard (Stephon Marbury) to a rookie trainee (Leandro Barbosa).

Perhaps nothing signals the Suns' belief in their future with Stoudemire more than their willingness to part with Marbury, a move that had much to do with the lack of chemistry between the two.

Eager student

Like other prep-to-pro successes such as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, Stoudemire has been open to any and all plans the Suns have for him, whether it be extra schooling on weak-side help defense or being the franchise pitchman for numerous promotions.

"It's cool, I'm a handsome young man," Stoudemire said, showing some of the personality that could win over more fans as he grows more comfortable. "I'm enjoying every moment of this. It's a great honor. Hopefully, it'll become more. As my game elevates, I'll become a more popular guy."

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Stoudemire has become the focal point of a retooled, inside-out offense. In the 29 games since his return, he has averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds. With the added involvement, however, has come a proliferation of turnovers because of his aggressive drives in traffic and wild passes.

He has been drilled daily about how to handle the trick defenses and double teams thrown at him. Some NBA scouts believe Stoudemire, who attended six high schools, lacks a feel for the game and has a one-track mind when the ball gets in his hands.

"To say he should be better at this or that, it doesn't take into consideration where he's been or how he's been playing or how far he's come," Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni said. "This guy's on a mission. His biggest problem is he wants it now."

He predictably goes to his right on his moves to the basket, but he is so quick that defenders can't guard even what they know is coming.

He has blended in a midrange jump shot, although he has settled for jumpers too often.

At least it's a much better looking shot than when he arrived with no consistent release point. It was just one of the things he could fix with real coaching for the first time.

"It's scary how good he will be when that 17-foot shot is automatic . . . and it will be," said Suns assistant Phil Weber, Stoudemire's shot doctor.

There are other basic, fundamental lessons to be learned, such as drop steps and jump hooks. The schooling extends to rebounding, where he needs more block-outs and less reliance on hops.

"He has to be a player who can change the game on both sides," said Mark West, Suns assistant general manager. "His biggest challenge is to not just be a great player, but be a great player that can help make us a great team."

That is going to require huge strides on defense, where Stoudemire has spent the spring in search of the balance of defending the likes of Kevin Garnett while being a better help defender when he has someone such as Slava Medvedenko.

Stoudemire lacks the defensive fundamentals most players get in college. But he is full of pride, which coach Mike D'Antoni can tap to get him active defensively.

"If we can get him to a good level on defense, our defense as a team will grow by leaps and bounds," D'Antoni said.

Rave reviews

The beauty of it for the Suns staff is Stoudemire wants to soak in their teachings. Their work is evident to the opposing coaches who consistently rave about Stoudemire's growth.

"He plays with a passion and force," New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. "He has an amazingly fast step for a guy his size."

Or as Memphis coach Hubie Brown said: "He's a monster."

It's his nasty streak that could separate Stoudemire from the crowd. D'Antoni calls it a "controlled fury."

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