NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Shortly after Jerry Stackhouse had been formally announced as Vanderbilt’s new basketball coach earlier this month, he held his first introductory meeting with his Commodore roster. The meeting didn’t take place on the floor at Memorial Gymnasium, but that didn’t matter to Stackhouse. He began coaching anyway.
“It was just exciting to see the excitement in their eyes about getting going,” Stackhouse recalled. “I couldn’t help myself. I saw that big whiteboard, I started drawing up plays, started talking about our defensive schemes, things we’re going to do offensively. Everyone was engaged and excited.”
Therein lies Stackhouse’s favorite part of being a coach: teaching, developing and watching hard work translate to success. While the former NBA G League Coach of the Year and, most recently, NBA assistant coach is quick to point out the importance of winning, he said he most enjoys the journey of developing talent along the way.
“I think those two things go hand-in-hand,” Stackhouse said. “Ultimately, what drives me is winning, having that success. But there are important steps to that. You’ve got to learn how to do things the right way. You’ve got to be conditioned to do it.”
Stackhouse, who cut his teeth at North Carolina under the legendary Dean Smith, recalls experiencing such conditioning during his rookie season in the NBA. Stackhouse had been picked third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1995 NBA Draft. The former Tar Heel had spent his college career primarily as a forward, but he fit the mold of a shooting guard in the NBA.
At first, the position switch was a challenge for Stackhouse. But a veteran teammate, Vernon Maxwell, eventually took Stackhouse aside and offered some advice.
“Vernon was the guy who showed me how to chase off screens, get on a guy,” Stackhouse said. “That changed everything for me. Suddenly, the Reggie Millers and the Ray Allens in the league, I could affect them.
“Then I went to Detroit I was teammates with Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, professional men who had had high levels of success winning championships. Being around those guys taught you more about the professionalism and how you approach things. That was huge for me.”
Those lessons led to Stackhouse earning two All-Star nods and leading the league in scoring once during a 18-year NBA career. In his later years in the league, Stackhouse found himself serving as the mentor to younger players; his coaches even led him run certain film sessions as the seasoned veteran in the room.
But Stackhouse didn’t know coaching was in his blood until he started Stackhouse Elite, an AAU program, in 2011. Stackhouse used to watch his oldest son, Jaye, play on AAU teams that played with, in Stackhouse’s words, “no structure.” That convinced him to create his own AAU team, Stackhouse Elite, and focus on fundamentals.
Stackhouse recalls once facing a particularly athletic AAU team that had his players’ jaws dropping during warmups. During pregame, he huddled his players together and reminded them of everything they focused on in practice. Stackhouse’s team later prevailed, negating its opponent’s brute force with a high-IQ game.
“That was when the light flicked on for me like, hey, this is fun,” he said.
Every coach is inherently a teacher, which is what has kept Stackhouse connected to his newfound career. Now he transitions to the college game with a chance to make a bigger impact with younger players. If Vanderbilt is to ascend back up the SEC standings, Stackhouse said it will come on the heels of development, the linchpin of what he hopes to build with the Commodores.
These days, Stackhouse can even remember his own maturation as a coach. Just as during his playing days, the game has begun to slow down for the wiser Stackhouse today.
“I was watching the ball and I could see three or four players in an offensive set,” Stackhouse said. “Then all the sudden, you see more. You see six guys out there. Then it’s eight. Now, I can see all 10. Watching the game is like watching a canvas.”