UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: Right time for a McKale return for Stoudamire

2013-05-19T00:00:00Z 2013-05-20T13:12:06Z Arizona basketball: Right time for a McKale return for StoudamireBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Long before he met with coach Sean Miller to discuss joining the Arizona Wildcats' coaching staff this spring, Damon Stoudamire's image was already on a McKale Center hallway, his name was in the rafters and his numbers were prominently in the school record book.

Stoudamire tried to separate all that from what he is now.

"I told Sean, 'I'm here as a basketball coach - I'm not here as an 18, 19, 20-year-old young man playing for coach (Lute) Olson,' " Stoudamire said.

"My responsibilities have changed. I'm here to help this program compete at the level that it's been and try to make it even better."

Miller apparently agreed.

"I'm hiring Damon not because he's one of the all-time great players here, though that's part of what makes him special," Miller said Friday, after Stoudamire was formally named an assistant coach. "I'm hiring him because he's absolutely the answer as a coach. His relationship with players, his ability to teach, his ability to connect with today's student-athlete in the recruiting process or with players here, he's been there and done it at the highest level.

"To me, who he is as a coach speaks way louder than what he did years ago here at the University of Arizona. That's what's most exciting for me - we're getting a heck of a coach."

Stoudamire also has five years of coaching experience to add to his post-playing resume: One as a player development director with Rice, two as an assistant with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and two with the Memphis Tigers.

In his last position, Stoudamire gained additional credibility by surviving the 24/7 world of college basketball under former UA workaholic Josh Pastner.

"Damon did great things for me," said Pastner, Memphis' head coach since 2009. "Sean is getting a really good one on the floor and in recruiting. He works hard and really gets after it."

But no matter what Stoudamire has done since he took off the Mighty Mouse cape five years ago, there are also good reasons not to separate Stoudamire the player from Stoudamire the coach.

One of them occurs often when he hits the recruiting trail and enters the living rooms of his recruits.

"To be honest with you, half of the kids' parents were watching me play," Stoudamire said of players he's recruited. "I know that might sound crazy, but it's the truth."

There is another attribute that Stoudamire has used to help Memphis amass top 10 recruiting classes over the past two years while working under Pastner.

It's the same one that helped Stoudamire become one of the Wildcats' most popular players ever: His personality.

"I think recruiting is easy because it's all about relationships," he said. "Then from there it's trust and me going to talk to kids has been a natural thing. Being able to connect with them is easy. And playing ball, I think, that also helps. A lot of kids are trying to get to the NBA, so when they look at me they can see that they see the blueprint."

That goes for the good and bad. Again, drawing from his experience as player, Stoudamire can talk to prospective or current players about his experience on the court in the NBA, where he was the 1996 rookie of the year, played on six playoff teams and amassed over $99 million in salary.

He also can pass on lessons he learned off the court. Most notably, the fact that he was arrested three times for marijuana-related incidents, including once in 2003 when he was stopped at the Tucson airport when police said he was carrying 40 grams of marijuana.

Stoudamire said he did not have to discuss his off-court incidents while seeking jobs at Memphis or Arizona - UA athletic director Greg Byrne declined to comment but said all his employees are thoroughly checked out - but Stoudamire said he brings the topic up anyway with players and his own children.

"That's a part of growing up and to be honest with you that's a thing that I allude to with these kids, because I bumped my head before you can bounce back," Stoudamire said. "I tell my own kids that. Probably the worst thing in the world was the selfishness that I had during that period of time, and I didn't realize how selfish I was until my own kids came home and told me that somebody at school was talking about me.

"I'm not running from it and I'm not ashamed of it because it's helped form who I am today."

Late in his NBA career, Stoudamire started to wonder if he could use his experiences to help younger players. He appeared to have little financial incentive to do so, with assistant coaches' salaries only a tiny fraction of the seven- to eight-figure sums he used to collect annually.

But Stoudamire felt a tug anyway.

He started attending travel-ball tournaments during the final two years of his NBA career and transitioned into coaching following the 2007-08 season.

"I just wanted to give back," Stoudamire said. "This game has been good to me, with all the great coaches and mentors that I've had, that I felt I could give something back. What I see with college kids, high school kids, they're yearning for love, to be patted on the back, and they want to be successful but half of them don't know how to be successful. With me being in this game, I can help these kids reach their goals."

After Stoudamire stopped playing following the 2007-08 season, he joined Rice University as director of player development under head coach Ben Braun, and then he spent the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons back in the NBA as an assistant with the Grizzlies.

It was then, after the Grizzlies drafted Kansas' Xavier Henry No. 12 overall in the 2010 NBA draft, that Stoudamire said he realized he would be better off in the college game.

Henry struggled to adapt as a rookie, having only one year of college basketball experience and also dealing with the pressure of being a high lottery pick.

"Xavier was a pretty good player, and we just kind of threw him out there and he was going through things," Stoudamire said. "He's a great kid, but that's not enough to make it in the NBA.

"You're going to play with a lot of different personalities. You're going to play with a lot of different people. And you know what? He wasn't ready for the NBA, on the floor or off the floor.

"What I told myself at that time was I think I can have an impact in college because these kids need some help," Stoudamire added.

"I'm not saying I'm trying to save the world or every kid, but from that point on I felt I can impact college more than I can impact the pros. And that's the biggest thing. The biggest thing is trying to connect with these kids, help them on the floor and off and help them get ready, telling them truths about what's really going on not only in college but in trying to get to the NBA."

So in 2011, Stoudamire jumped over to the Tigers, having been a candidate to return to Arizona that spring before Miller hired Joe Pasternack instead.

Stoudamire used the experience with the Memphis Tigers to further bolster his coaching credentials, digging into the personalities, NCAA rules and zone defenses of the college game.

Two more years of experience, two more years of separation from his playing years.

Now, Stoudamire indicated, he's ready for a return to McKale Center.

More than ever.

"Honestly, when I look back on it, it was probably the right thing that I didn't come back to Arizona (in 2011)," Stoudamire said, "because I think that gave people a chance to see me as a coach and see the things that I was capable of doing.

"It couldn't have happened any better way."

On StarNet: Check out video of former Wildcat Damon Stoudamire's playing days at the UA at azstarnet.com/video and also catch more photos of him, Lute Olson and Sean Miller at the UA's news conference at azstarnet.com/gallery

"I'm hiring Damon not because he's one of the all-time great players here, though that's part of what makes him special. I'm hiring him because he's absolutely the answer as a coach."

Sean Miller,

Arizona basketball coach

Contact Bruce Pascoe at 573-4145 or bpascoe@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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