Jerry Stackhouse understands a thing or two about growing up with a big family.
“I’m the youngest of 11 — eight boys and three girls,” Stackhouse said. “I’m the baby.”
Today Stackhouse, who was named head men’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt on Friday, credits his oversized pack of brothers and sisters with his competitiveness. That edge has served Stackhouse well in his career, which has included 18 seasons as an NBA player and five more as a coach in the NBA and G League.
Growing up in the small town of Kinston, North Carolina, Stackhouse always looked forward to the holidays. That was when his older siblings — several of whom lived in different cities and states — would venture back home. Family games of basketball were routine during Christmas and Thanksgiving; each year, Stackhouse would work a little harder to show up his brothers on the court. That included older brother Tony Dawson, who would go on to play at Florida State and enjoy a pro career in the NBA and abroad.
“All my brothers played basketball,” Stackhouse recalled. “I just really wanted to be like them. That’s how I judged myself. Every time they would come home, I would get a little better and a little better, so I always knew where I stood. That was my driving force.”
Ultimately, that drive pushed Stackhouse onto the radar of college programs. He starred as a highly touted prep prospect at Kinston (N.C.) High School and, later, Oak Hill (Va.) Academy. When his recruitment began, he signed with in-state powerhouse North Carolina and legendary head coach Dean Smith.
Stackhouse thrived in Chapel Hill, earning All-ACC and All-America honors and helping the Tar Heels reach the Final Four as a sophomore in 1994-95. After two seasons, Stackhouse declared for the NBA Draft, where he was selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.
At the same time, Stackhouse made a promise to his mother and to Coach Smith: he would return to earn his degree. Indeed, in the fall of 1999, Stackhouse graduated with his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina.
“I just understood the importance of it, and my parents understood the importance of it,” Stackhouse said. “Growing up, if I didn’t finish my work, I couldn’t go out and play. My competitiveness later made me so I wanted to not only do well in sports, but I wanted to do well in the classroom. I grew up my whole adolescent life focused and pushing for it. Getting my degree was something I didn’t have to do, but I wanted to do.”
Stackhouse strived for the true student-athlete experience at North Carolina. Now he gets to carry that same approach into his new job in charge of Vanderbilt men’s basketball. Stackhouse said that unique opportunity is not something he plans to take for granted.
“I’m so glad I earned my degree, because I wouldn’t be here now having the opportunity to be at such a great academic institution like Vanderbilt,” Stackhouse said. “The student-athletes we have and the kids that they are, that’s what excites me, being able to do this with the type of kids you have at Vanderbilt. And you can get it done. It’s a challenge, but if you build an identity and a culture of doing things and be accountable, you can get it done. There’s a select kid that fits that mold. Now it’s our job to go out and find it.”