MISSISSAUGA, Canada — Current players call out the old man, 42 years old and nearly four years removed from his last NBA action, maybe to see what he’s got left and perhaps thinking they can separate Coach from some of his per diem. Jarrod Uthoff, a rookie forward from Iowa, had his own motive in the search for a one-on-one opponent after a training-camp practice with the Raptors 905, the NBA D-League affiliate of the Toronto Raptors. Uthoff, as has been his approach in the past, simply figured getting better meant challenging the best guy in the gym.
Jerry Stackhouse obliged. This was an expected part of the routine for a retiree who averaged 20 points a game five times in an 18-year career with eight teams and made two All-Star appearances with the Detroit Pistons. It happened a season ago, as a Raptors assistant coach, and nothing would be different in 2016-17 as a rookie head coach in his new home base 20 miles away from downtown Toronto, Mississauga’s Hershey Center.
Except for one thing.
This is not Former Standout Jerry Stackhouse big-naming his way to a job. This is not a marketing move by the Raptors, the parent club. Stackhouse is no sideshow attraction to sell tickets or send Raptors 905 players on an Internet scavenger hunt of old highlights.
“This is what I do. This isn’t a fluke. I’ve been working at this thing for a while. A lot of people just see it now.”
Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse
Stackhouse, the guy who has been on the sidelines for the NBA, for the D-League and all the way to the AAU circuit, has a chance for a long career as a coach. The Raptors thought enough to give him this opportunity despite relatively little experience when a lot of other candidates would have lined up to work for a stable, successful organization after former coach Jesse Mermuys left to join Luke Walton’s staff with the Lakers. Non-Toronto NBA executives are privately noting Stackhouse’s potential, too, seeing the same positive direction.
“Anybody that knows me knows that I’ve got a lot of pride and I’m confident in what I do,” Stackhouse said. “This is what I do. This isn’t a fluke. I’ve been working at this thing for a while. A lot of people just see it now.”
Stackhouse is still evolving in a lot of ways. Though known for offense while playing for eight teams, his role model in this new life is Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and Thibs’ defense-first image. And while Stack has been on a pro bench before, he is deciding practice plans, lineups and game strategy for the first time, a big learning curve no matter what but especially in the D-League’s quick-change world that can include a player being sent down or called up hours before tipoff. Most of all, though, is that despite remaining a demonstrative coach — “He brings energy,” Uthoff, traded to Fort Wayne on Jan. 27, said diplomatically — this is not the same Stackhouse of a year ago.
The personality adjustment has been that big. Understanding he can’t be as in-your-face as the coach setting the tone every day compared to the Raptors assistant working with players in individual drills also shows a sense of awareness. Stackhouse dialed it down on his own in a realization that bringing too much energy would eat through a roster, not catapult him from Mississauga to a No. 1 seat in the NBA within months.
“He wasn’t that way with us (last season), but I think that has been his reputation,” said Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who hired Stackhouse for the Raptors 905. “He’s been just an intense guy. As a player you just have to approach it a different way. We never had any issues with him. I like Stack. One of the reasons we got him was to bring that intensity. I like that he fires up your players, he makes them see the importance of things. He sees the importance of playing, of working, of winning and taking the game serious. There’s no BS about Jerry Stackhouse. That’s what you want in the game.”
The results have followed. The Raptors 905, at 24-9, lead the Central Division in the Eastern Conference and Stackhouse was named Coach of the Month for December. He coached the Eastern Conference in the D-League All-Star game on Saturday — a 105-100 win by the East — in New Orleans as part of NBA All-Star 2017.
“I guess I don’t really take that much of a look in the mirror at it,” Stackhouse said. “But I think last year that was needed, to come in and be a player voice for these guys, someone that they respected. Coach (Dwane Casey) wanted me to be that for them. Now I still get at these guys, get after them and push them and try to draw what we can after them. But at the same time, you’ve got to hug on ‘em too.”
Just like one-on-one with Uthoff in training camp. The player won more games, but the coach won the last and claimed that’s the one that matters. What happens at the very end, after the scoring.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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