By J.A. Adande
There’s a strange fascination I have with unlikely coaches in Memphis. Last year it was Rod Strickland on John Calipari’s college staff before they left for Kentucky. Now it’s Damon Stoudamire, helping out the Grizzlies. If you watch the Grizzlies, those surprise playoff contenders, you’ll see Stoudamire. Come on, you have to like anyone who refers to his gig as “this coaching piece.”
How many can say they saw this coming during Stoudamire’s playing days? Some people live to coach, and some have coaching come into their lives.
Two years ago Stoudamire was working out at Rice University in Houston, holding out hopes of getting back to the NBA, staying in shape in case a team needed to pick up a veteran guard. One day Rice basketball coach Ben Braun invited him to attend a practice. And the invitation didn’t stop there.
“He said, ‘You need to come on down here and coach. You would be a good coach.’”
Stoudamire figured it would be a good way to pass some time. So he spent time working with the Owls and made a discovery.
“I was like, ‘I kinda like this,’” Stoudamire said.
Stoudamire had maintained a good relationship with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley after playing in Memphis late in is career, and when Lionel Hollins took over as coach two years ago it made a job there more appealing to Stoudamire.
The question, as is often the case with former players, was if he would put in the necessary work. For Stoudamire that was a non-issue. No 5-foot-10 player makes the NBA without working hard. This was just going to require the same amount of effort. He peppered the more experienced members of the staff with questions on everything from diagramming plays to preparing scouting reports. From there, it was a matter of learning how to help others learn themselves.
“You’ve got to have patience,” Stoudamire said. “For me, everything I did as a player I had to relate that in conversations to the players.”
Ironically, he’s tapping into the same acquired knowledge that used to allow him to tune out his coaches. In the latter stages of his career he found pregame strategy sessions “redundant” because he already knew what to expect. Even now he sees coaches are running the same old stuff. But since he’s already seen it in so many forms, he can explain what’s coming next for a roster that has only three players over age 25. For example, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy’s top assistant is Brendan Malone, who was Stoudamire’s coach his rookie year in Toronto. He’ll scout Magic games and recognize the same sets he ran with the Raptors.
So he draws on his memories to instruct a group of players so young their data banks struggle to reproduce the entire arc of his career, which included a rookie of the year award and seasons finishing among the league leaders in three-pointers and asssists. O.J. Mayo was only 8 when Stoudamire was a rookie. He can recall that Stoudamire had a lefty jumper and was nicknamed Mighty Mouse, but not much beyond that.
“At that time it was strictly Jordan,” Mayo said.
For Mayo, Couch Stoudamire “really has a positive input on the game. He does a lot of our game-planning and our scouting report. He just does a good job understanding team personnel, opponents…he’s done a really good job.”
Now Stoudamire can envision it as a full-fledged job. He’s hired an agent (Lon Rosen) and has hopes of being a head coach one day.
“Not only is this a way for me to stay close to the game, it’s a way for me to give back to the game that has given me so much,” Stoudamire said. “Basketball has done a lot for me and my family. I’m blessed I’m in a position that I can give back a lot of knowledge.”