By Sean Collins
May 31, 2013
When fans of the Arizona men's basketball program hear the name Damon Stoudamire, they feel like they know him. They know he was the starting point guard on one of Arizona's four Final Four teams. He is the only player in UA history to score 40 points or more on two separate occasions and his total of 45 points in a game is No. 2 on the all-time list of points scored in a game at Arizona. He is one of six players in program history to record a triple double. He is a member of Arizona's prestigious Ring of Honor. He is No. 6 all-time in points scored, No. 3 in three-point field goals made and he is No. 3 in assists. He was a finalist for the Wooden Award in 1995, was a consensus All-American and was named co-Pac-10 Player of the Year. He was the first-ever draft pick of the Toronto Raptors at No. 7 in the NBA draft. He earned Rookie of the Year honors. However, the new assistant coach of the men's basketball team would like the Arizona fans to get know a different side of him.
"I'm here as a basketball coach right now," Stoudamire stated. "I'm not here as a young man playing for Coach (Lute) Olson. My responsibilities have changed; I'm here to help this program compete at the level it has been and even better. I look forward to the opportunity to be here and learn under Coach Miller. Being back at my alma mater, it's going to be a great experience for me."
Stoudamire, 39, is no longer walking through the halls of McKale as a student-athlete; he now yearns to help those student-athletes that are currently striving to accomplish the same things he accomplished. He joins a staff that has been regarded as one of the best recruiting staff's in the country. They have brought in four McDonald's All-Americans in the past two seasons alone. Head coach Sean Millerand his staff have also been to the Elite 8 and Sweet 16 in two of the last three years. But Miller and Stoudamire both want more and feel that Stoudamire can help with that.
"He has an incredible, burning desire and a love for the game of basketball," Miller said. "He had it as a player and he has it as a coach. I'm hiring him because he's absolutely the answer as the coach. His relationship with players, his ability to teach, his ability to connect with today's student-athletes in the recruiting process or the guys who are here. He's been there and done it at the highest level. To me, the credibility that he has and the passion that he has, who he is as a coach, speaks way louder than what he did as a player here at the University of Arizona."
Stoudamire has been preparing for this since 2008 when he ended his professional career in the NBA. He worked at Rice as the director of player development. Then he went back to the NBA and was an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies for two years. From there, he coached with former Wildcat Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis.
"I've prepared for this moment," Stoudamire said. "I've put together game plans, I've done scouts, I've pretty much jumped into this coaching piece since I finished playing. I feel like I will be a very good coach at the University of Arizona and I'm only going to get better with Sean (Miller)." Despite Stoudamire's years of experience at the point guard position, he feels that he can help in other aspects of the game, not just coaching the guards.
"I can help with the recruiting," Stoudamire said. "I can help with on-floor, individual work and I can help wherever he really needs me. It's just a matter of trying to be well-rounded, I don't want to be pigeonholed and I want people to see the skills I really have."
Stoudamire's success on the court and specifically on the court in an Arizona uniform did not do all the convincing for Miller. He spoke with those that had worked with Stoudamire and Olson to make sure that he was the man for the job.
"We are very excited to add Damon to our staff," Miller said. "Obviously, Damon was a great player for coach Lute Olson and a difference-maker in our program's history. His pro career speaks even louder, when you consider how many years he played in the NBA and the success he had there after he left Arizona. But from my perspective, it's about building the best basketball program at the University of Arizona."
Stoudamire knows what hard work is all about and has never shied away from it. He acknowledged that he isn't shocked by the lack of star-level NBA players returning as coaches for the simple fact that it is so hard. But that was not a deterrent for him.
"It's hard, it's a grind and I think that is the biggest thing that I had to overcome," Stoudamire said. "When I first got into this, everybody wanted to know why. This isn't something that I just concocted in my head. My final years in the NBA, I started going to AAU tournaments. I started talking to former coaches that recruited me, I talked to Coach Olson and as many people as I could about the grind of college. They told me but not until I ultimately got to college did I really understand the total grind of what this thing is all about."
One of the main differences between the collegiate and professional levels, is recruiting. It is one of the most important parts of a successful program and it is something that Stoudamire does not think will be a problem.
"To me, I shouldn't say it like this, but I think recruiting is easy," Stoudamire said. "It's all about building relationships and then from there its just trust. Me talking to kids has just been a natural thing. Being able to connect with kids is easy. Playing ball, I think that also helps, a lot of kids are ultimately trying to get to the NBA. So, when they look at me, they can see the blueprint. Another thing that really helps me, to be honest with you, is half of these kids' parents grew up watching me play."
One of the ways Stoudamire is able to connect with high school and collegiate student-athletes is that he feels he knows what they want. He also has their best interest at heart and is looking to help them get to where they want to go. "What I see with high school and college kids, is that they are yearning for love," Stoudamire said. "They are yearning to be patted on the back. They want to be successful but half of them just don't know how. I feel I can make more of an impact in college. I can help these kids ultimately reach their goals by using my experiences and my stories to help them along the way."