Twenty years have passed since Damon Stoudamire agreed to play college basketball for Arizona, but the eventual NBA All-Star still remembers the reasoning behind his decision.
“I wanted to play for a coach who made me feel like family,” Stoudamire said. “I wanted to play for someone who treated me like I was their own son.”
Stoudamire found that in Lute Olson. Two decades later, he hopes to offer the same support for players at the University of Memphis, where he’s been hired as an assistant under third-year coach Josh Pastner. Stoudamire, who retired after the 2007-08 season, spent the past two years as an aide with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
“It was a great opportunity,” Stoudamire said of the Grizzlies job, “but I’ve always envisioned myself working with young players that were trying to get to the NBA. That’s more the dynamic I was made for.
“The chance to help shape and mold kids is something that really intrigues me. I think it will be more fulfilling.”
The hiring of Stoudamire, 37, came after Pastner’s top two assistants accepted positions at other schools. Willis Wilson is now the head coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Glenn Cyprien left to join Billy Kennedy’s staff at Texas A&M. Pastner said he has no timetable when it comes to filling his other vacancy.
“It could be one day or it could be three months,” he said. “I’m not rushing into anything. We’ve got to make sure it’s the right fit.”
Stoudamire and Memphis certainly appear to be a good match. The Tigers, after all, tout one of the top backcourts in America with players such as Will Barton, Antonio Barton, Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Charles Carmouche. The 5-foot-10 Stoudamire averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists in 13 NBA seasons with Toronto, Portland, Memphis and San Antonio. He was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1995-96.
Pastner said Stoudamire’s presence will be beneficial to all of Memphis’ players – not just the guards.
“He has such a great feel for the game because he’s played it at the highest level,” Pastner said. “The kind of athletes we’re recruiting … all of them want to get to where Damon has been. They’re going to listen to him, because he’s been there.”
Despite his success on the court, life in the NBA wasn’t always rosy for Stoudamire. His seven-year stint in Portland (1998-2005) was marred by a series of marijuana-related arrests and a 90-day stint in a rehabilitation program.
Stoudamire, though, said he has “no shame” about his past problems. If anything, he believes he can spin the situation into a positive at Memphis.
“I’ve stumbled in my life,” Stoudamire said. “I’ve learned from my mistakes. I have life lessons that I can pass on to these guys. My situation and the way I bumped my head … maybe because of me, these guys won’t have to bump their heads.
“Now they have a conduit, someone who has been exactly where they’re trying to get, someone they can bounce everything off of. They won’t be able to [b.s.] me, either, because I’ve seen it all.”
Pastner, who guided the Tigers to the NCAA tournament last season, is confident Stoudamire’s message will resonate not only with players, but also with their parents.
“This is a ‘people’ business,” Pastner said, “and he has the ability to make everyone around him feel comfortable. He’s very even-keeled.”
Although he’s never recruited before, Stoudamire is confident he’ll feel comfortable in the living rooms of star prospects.
“We can all sit here and fool ourselves into believing that we’re the ones who are going to make a kid the best player he can be,” Stoudamire said. “But with most kids, the talent is eventually going to take over, and they’re going to be good whether they went to Coppin State or North Carolina.
“So to me, my main job is to build a rapport with a kid, show him you care and that you’re going to look out for him and treat him like he’s your own child when he’s there. That’s all a kid can ask for. It’s all I wanted when I was in school.”
Stoudamire’s desire to influence up-and-coming players certainly seems sincere. After all, he doesn’t really need to work. Stoudamire made enough money in the NBA to live the good life for years to come. He tried that shortly after his retirement. After a few weeks, he said he “got bored.”
“When you’ve been doing something for so long, it’s hard to all of a sudden have nothing to do,” he said. “You basically have two or three hours of your day where you can do everything you need to do. Then your day is done. I’m an early bird, so my day was getting done by 9:30 or 10 and I had nothing else to do. I’m not a golfer. I’m a gym rat. This is all I know.”
Stoudamire worked a few months on Ben Braun’s staff at Rice before joining the Grizzlies in February 2009. Stoudamire has known Pastner – who played at Arizona after Stoudamire – for years, so when the opportunity arose to join Memphis’ staff, it seemed like a natural fit.
Stoudamire said he’s always been enamored by the work ethic and drive of Pastner, who at 33 is one of the youngest coaches in Division I basketball.
“He’s like the modern-day Rudy,” Stoudamire said.
Pastner returned the compliment, adding that Stoudamire has a long future in college basketball.
“I want future head coaches working for me,” Pastner said. “And Damon is definitely a future head coach.”
That’s certainly Stoudamire’s goal, although he’s in no hurry to ascend to that position.
“I need to learn some things first,” he said. “I’m working for a program that’s in the top 10 or 15 every year. I want to start a career here. I’m not looking to leave in a year or two. Everyone likes to give back in their own way.
“This is my way of giving back.”
- Damon Stoudamire
- Josh Pastner