Journey of a General
Damon Stoudamire has revamped his ‘Jail Blazer’ image.
Stoudamire split time his last year in the League between Memphis and San Antonio. He filled in for an injured Tony Parker, in one last hope of making a title run, but it was clear his time as a productive point guard had come to an end.
There wouldn’t be another training camp. The guards were younger, quicker and laced with potential. Stoudamire’s days of playing the game he loves in front of thousands of people was over. It was his time to fade into basketball obscurity.
There was no identity crisis or lack of self-worth in those final years. No ‘Who am I now?” moment. Instead of allowing that swift slide into obscurity, to the land of the forgotten, Stoudamire did the one thing that would allow him to give more to the game. He prepared.
Beginning in his latter days in Portland, he studied the game. Analyzing situations and coaching styles, preparing his mind to see the game from other angles. He picked the brains of every coach, taking what he liked from each of their arsenals and storing it in his own. Instead of battling against the younger players, he embraced their journey and shared his knowledge, guiding them for the betterment of the franchise.
“A lot of the leadership qualities it takes to be successful as a coach, you have to have to be a successful point guard,” Stoudamire said. “I think it is natural for a point guard to want to coach. It was natural for me to make that transition.”
Within months after walking away from the NBA, Stoudamire was offered a position on Rice University’s staff. It was a natural fit considering he lived in Houston and Rice was a guard-orientated team. At Rice, Stoudamire felt that hunger he had growing up in Portland. A fire was ignited and a coach was born.
A few months later, he was offered a position with his former team the Memphis Grizzlies and their new coach, Lionel Hollins. Stoudamire was back in the NBA, however, this time, there were no Draft parties or kisses on the head. No signing bonuses or second chances. He was back at the bottom, and surprisingly that’s right where he wanted to be.
“You have so many myths out there with former players and coaching,” Stoudamire said. “‘Do they want to put in the work that it takes?’ For me it has always been about the grind to the top. That is the fun part. That’s what gets me up every day.”
In Memphis, Stoudamire learned from the even-keeled Hollins, who wasn’t afraid to tell players how he felt, but took a more relaxed, player-friendly approach. Also on the staff was longtime defensive guru Henry Bibby, who helped Stoudamire balance his knowledge for offense with the defensive side of the game.
“I couldn’t have been on a better staff starting out,” Stoudamire said.
Memphis struggled in Stoudamire’s first year. Their inexperience and youth showed against the experience and talent in the Western Conference. The next season would be much different, however, as Stoudamire helped develop Mike Conley into one the most promising young point guards in the League, and Conley helped lead the Grizzlies to the second round of the Playoffs.
Stoudamire’s ability to impact young guards and use his personal experiences to connect with them, caught the eye of the University of Memphis head coach Josh Pastner. Pastner, who is one of the best young minds in all of coaching, saw an opportunity to add Stoudamire to his staff.
“He has a great basketball mind,” Pastner said. “You are talking about a guy who played at the highest level for 13 years. He brings instant credibility to our program.”
The chance to connect with young kids and have an impact on their life was too much for Stoudamire to pass up. From the moment the announcement was made, questions began to swirl about Stoudamire’s past.
How could a guy who had been arrested on multiple drug charges be allowed to shape our youth?
“Damon has the unique ability to share his experiences and connect with the kids,” Pastner said. “He is, and will be, a great recruiter. He has a strong connection with all of our guys.”
When asked about his past and how parents will react when they learn the man sitting in their living room, telling them why their kid should go to his school, was arrested on drug charges, Stoudamire doesn’t flinch.
“I can talk to kids about stuff other people can’t,” he said. “They might be going through the same stuff I was going through. You really have the chance to change kid’s lives if they are going in the wrong direction.”
Pastner has no concerns about Stoudamire’s character or the fact that he will be a head coach someday.
“He has a great pulse of the team,” Pastner said. “I think there is no question he will be a very good head coach. It’s been a good experience for him to learn the college game. He has done a really nice job for us.”
Stoudamire knows the grind to the top will be tough, and that head coaching jobs are rare, but he is confident his day will come to call the plays for a major program.
“When I get my chance I will be an excellent Xs and Os guy,” he said. “I didn’t get in this business to be a lifelong assistant coach. I have been groomed to do this since day one.”
The basketball journey and the journey of life go hand in hand for Stoudamire. The lessons learned serve as a platform for the lessons he now teaches. Though one day he will have to fade from the game he loves, the love of the game will never fade for the man with Mighty Mouse tattoo.
Born in Staten Island but raised in the city of rain, Seattle, WA, Tyler Richardson grew up watching Gary Payton, Mark Jackson, Kevin Johnson and John Starks. He plans to cover the Sonics as they make their triumphant return to the 206.