A Nod to the Dean

Long before Jerry Stackhouse became an 18-year NBA veteran and a two-time All-Star, he was a premier prep prospect out of North Carolina whose size – 6-6 – conjured up comparisons to another legendary scorer who once hailed from the Tar Heel State, Michael Jordan. Thus, it came as no surprise that Stackhouse’s college recruitment became a revolving door of the game’s elite coaches and programs.
One morning, Michigan head coach Steve Fisher ventured to Stackhouse’s Kinston, North Carolina home for a recruiting visit. Stackhouse’s mother offered Fisher donuts and coffee as he delivered his sales pitch for the Wolverines. Later that day, the family expected another recruiter to arrive on its couch: North Carolina’s Dean Smith.
When Smith arrived, Stackhouse noticed a quick change in atmosphere. His mother became decidedly busy in the kitchen, eventually whipping up a meal of fried pork chops and cooked cabbage for Smith, the guest of honor.
“She had never pushed me in any direction,” Stackhouse recalled, “but I think she showed me who her favorite was right there.”
Stackhouse ultimately signed with Smith and North Carolina, the beginning of a fruitful relationship for both parties. Smith had won two NCAA titles by the time he lured Stackhouse, a McDonald’s All-American, to Chapel Hill. But Stackhouse earned First Team All-America and All-ACC honors in helping the Tar Heels reach the Final Four as a sophomore in 1995, just before declaring for that year’s NBA Draft — and becoming the No. 3 overall pick.
Stackhouse had had his pick of the litter of college destinations. So why did the prep star decide to stay home and play at North Carolina?
“It’s just hard to tell Dean Smith no,” he said.
More than two decades later, Stackhouse finds himself hearkening back to Smith’s lessons as he forges his own career as a coach. Last Friday, Stackhouse was named head coach of Vanderbilt men’s basketball. His latest job follows five years as a G-League head coach and an NBA assistant. All along the way, Stackhouse has remembered his experience as a college player, which taught him the importance of work ethic, teamwork and weathering adversity.
“It wasn’t easy. That’s the thing I can sell,” Stackhouse said of his two years at North Carolina. “There were times when I was ready to leave school. I was not playing as much as I wanted to, I could’ve been doing this or that. But Coach Smith taught me to be humble and wait my turn. I learned the importance of being part of something and not just being the focal point; being a part of something special. All those lessons, man, just from a basketball standpoint, I still carry those same fundamentals.”
Stackhouse will get his chance to fortify Vanderbilt’s foundation with those fundamentals beginning next season. He has credited much of his playing career to Smith’s principles. Now, as he turns the page on a new chapter as a coach, he sees more and more the impact Smith left on him years ago.
“I played for a lot of great coaches,” Stackhouse said. “But the basis of who I am, playing the game the right way and playing hard and playing tough and being super competitive, those are some of the things people take for granted with Coach Smith. He was such a class act, but he was competitive as anybody.
“I just hope I’m making him proud, carrying on and trying to pass along those same principles that he instilled at me. They will ring loud at Vanderbilt University.”