Why you should care

Because this is Drake’s new favorite coach. 

’Tis the season, sports fans. That time of the year when the promised land of prime competitive displays — a four-month stretch from the Super Bowl to the Stanley Cup playoffs — draws near. To celebrate, I headed north to Toronto, a fine sports city in its own right and this year’s official mecca of minor league basketball.

The Toronto Raptors just hosted the 2017 NBA D-League Showcase, a weeklong round-robin tournament featuring all 22 of the league’s development teams. And for one week, the Hershey Centre in Mississauga — home of the Raptors’ affiliate, Raptors 905 — is ground zero for NBA scouts, front-office executives and some of basketball’s rising stars. There’s plenty of promising talent on the floor, but one man on the verge of a career breakthrough remains firmly planted on the sidelines: Jerry Stackhouse.

I want them all to know that this is an opportunity, and that when one guy moves on, someone else gets a chance to prove himself.

 

The North Carolina native known as “Stack” played 18 seasons in the NBA, averaging nearly 17 points a game, including 29.8 in the 2000–20001 season, in 970 career contests. The third overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft became a two-time NBA All Star, played in 75 playoff games and reached the NBA Finals with Dallas in 2006. After retiring in 2013, Stack tried his hand as a TV analyst before moving on to coaching. The former All-American — he played for the University of North Carolina — spent one year as an assistant for the Raptors before being named head coach of the Raptors 905, where he is grooming young stars, and himself, for a shot at the big time. Following a dominant 135–122 victory over the Grand Rapids Drive on opening day of the showcase, OZY talked with Stackhouse about his transition from star player to coach, the state of D-League basketball and what the event means for his players and the city of Toronto.

With Raptors 905 sitting atop the Eastern Conference, what have you instilled in your players during your first season as head coach?

Stackhouse: I’m really proud of our guys. They have confidence in each other and love sharing the ball. I had to raise my voice a little bit in the first half today, but then we got back to playing our game. We had eight players score in double figures. Hopefully these NBA teams are taking notice. I love my guys, but I’d love to see them move on [to the NBA].

Will it be bittersweet for you if your players start getting promoted?

Stackhouse: No way, man, that will be awesome. I want them all to know that this is an opportunity, and that when one guy moves on, someone else gets a chance to prove himself. I’ll be happy and excited for anyone who gets the call. Hopefully this showcase provides the platform for them to be seen.

What’s been your biggest adjustment in moving from player to assistant coach to head coach?

Stackhouse: I love strategizing and figuring out the X’s and O’s of the game, but there’s so much day-to-day management, you know? Making time for the training staff and public relations, scouting other teams. Other than that, just calling all the shots, rather than making suggestions. In this organization, we debate behind closed doors and come out as one. That’s something that resonates with our team here and something that our whole organization understands.

Bravo Coach! 👏🏽 #RoadToTheSix More on Raptors905.com

A photo posted by Raptors 905 (@raptors905) on

I’m learning a lot, and I’ve got a great staff working with me. My assistants, guys like David Gale and Nate Mitchell, will be head coaches in their own right.

You never played in the D-League, so what has surprised you most about it?

Stackhouse: Definitely the caliber of talent. Being in the parent league for so long, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the D-League. But there’s some extraordinary talent down here. A lot of guys are on the precipice of playing in the NBA and fulfilling their dreams; they just need the opportunity. That’s one thing more fans need to realize too: Every night there is real professional talent playing in this league, playing in smaller cities like Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Portland, Maine, where people really love basketball. As a league, we just need to keep building this thing.

Is there a trade-off you have to balance between developing players and winning, given that this is the NBA’s Development League and your boss, Raptors president Masai Ujiri, is one of the foremost talent developers in professional basketball?

Stackhouse: It’s all about winning to me. We all want to develop our guys, and the front office can say whatever they want, but we don’t ever want to allow a mind-set that losing is acceptable. That’s from Masai on down through the entire organization. Toronto is about winning.

What does hosting the D-League Showcase mean for Toronto and for your Raptors 905?

Stackhouse: It’s another great opportunity — after hosting the NBA All Star Game last season — to show people that Toronto is really about basketball. It’s evident when you watch the Raptors that they’re playing great basketball, and the fan support is fantastic. So I think it’s an opportunity to keep proving that this is as good a basketball city as you’ll find in the league.

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