Stackhouse proving a quick study as Raptors assistant coach

Raptors assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse, left, speaks with point guard Cory Joseph. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

TORONTO — As Jerry Stackhouse’s playing career wound down, he pictured a locker room full of Jerry Stackhouses and ruled out coaching as the next phase of his NBA journey.

“I was too much of a headache for a coach to do that to myself,” Stackhouse said with a laugh last week.

Stackhouse wrapped up an 18-season NBA career, which included two trips to the all-star game, in 2013. He was searching for his next step, as he had always considered himself an NBA lifer—spending about half of your life deeply tied with one organization has a funny way of making you feel that way.

However, as he pondered his next move, he spent time watching his two sons, Jaye and Antonio, play lots of basketball.

“Honestly, the main reason I’m here right now is because of my seventh-grade son (Antonio)," Stackhouse said. "I walked into the gym one day to go and watch him play an AAU game, and it was just like, ‘I can’t take this any more. They should be playing better basketball. They’re at an age now where they should know more about the game of basketball and spacing and how to share the floor and how to share the basketball and how to defend.' So I was like, ‘I’m going to start a team with these same guys and coach them.’ I did that and we had success. I caught the bug. I had the fever.

“I don’t know if you choose coaching. Coaching kind of chooses you.”

Fewer than three years after his retirement, Stackhouse now has his own AAU program, Stackhouse Elite, and is on the coaching staff of the second best team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. This past off-season the Raptors made significant changes to Dwane Casey’s staff for the second time in three years. The need for a coach whom the players could identify with a bit more than in recent years was pinpointed as a necessity, and Stackhouse fit that role perfectly.

Coming to the end of his first season on the bench, Stackhouse says the teaching has been the easiest part of his transition. Pre-teens or 20-something NBAers, young players all learn the same way: “There’s really no difference. The thing is with players, you have to tell them every day.”

The tougher part of the move has been adapting to the change in social structure, a notable challenge for a player who was considered one of the toughest in the league, both on and off of the court.

“When you’re a player, you establish your hierarchy pretty much by your dominance on the basketball court. I think you become a leader by establishing that dominance, establishing that level of play,” Stackhouse said. “Now being in more of the corporate environment, you have to articulate differences differently. Being able to spend time with people in other environments to be able to build that social equity, so whenever you do have a disagreement you’re able to handle it.”

There are all sorts of disagreements within a coaching staff. Although the coaches do their best to present a united front to the players—and that front is ultimately the path that the head coach chooses—there can be fierce differences of opinion about a coverage, a play call or a rotation choice.

Embracing those disagreements has been tough for Stackhouse, but perhaps the most rewarding part of his first year on the job.

“One thing I’ve learned that’s great with our coaching staff is there is more than one way to do things,” Stackhouse said. “Just because you’ve done it that way for a long time and have had success and it’s kind of part of your DNA and what you believe is part of a winning team, somebody can come and offer someone else and make you say, ‘OK, that works.’

"I may not do it that way if I were the top decision maker. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t work. That’s the rapport that we have as a coaching staff. Case gives us a little latitude to be able to speak on things and give our opinions. It’s his final decision. But in any given game, he can take your suggestion and roll with it or go in a different direction.”

It has been electrifying for Stackhouse, for example, when Casey turns to him to seek out some advice near the end of a game he did the majority of the prep work for. (Assistant coaches split the prep for the 82 games, with Stackhouse and player development coach Jama Mahlalela, both in their first year on the job, taking a slightly lighter load with 14 games apiece.) Still, he is not sure where his post-playing career will lead him.

Stackhouse said that he is intrigued by the idea of building a team, and his conversations with Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri have been among his favourite parts of the season. He has floated the idea of going back to school to further his ability to operate in that realm.

For now, coaching is working out just fine. Stackhouse has found that his recent career is currency with the Raptors’ players, although there is a clear line between him and them. Stackhouse and his fellow assistants, Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, all have a love for jazz, and have gone to see live music on the road. That is not necessarily a common activity for players.

There is also the matter of fashion.

“Everything they’re wearing right now: I’m not wearing tight, colourful clothes,” Stackhouse said. “Like the song says, I’m a classic man.”