In a short time, Jerry Stackhouse left an impact on the Grizzlies and he will at Vandy, too

By Omari Sankofa II 

A word of warning to the Vanderbilt men’s basketball players who will play under Jerry Stackhouse next season — your new head coach will dunk on you if he gets the chance.

That’s a lesson that Memphis Grizzlies point guard Delon Wright learned the hard way. During Wright’s rookie season with the Raptors in 2015, he participated in a transition drill with Stackhouse, who was an assistant coach.

Wright underestimated Stackhouse’s ability to get off of the floor. And Stackhouse made him pay with a posterization.

“I figured he was going to lay it up, so I tried to block it and he just raised up,” Wright said.

When Stackhouse joined the Grizzlies’ assistant coaching staff last summer, he quickly made his presence known on the team. He brought many of the defensive concepts he established with the Raptors’ G League team, Raptors 905, with him to Memphis. Raptors 905 was one of the best defensive teams in the league when Stackhouse was in charge, and they played the slowest pace in the league during both of his seasons as head coach. The Grizzlies, accordingly, have been a top-10 defensive team this season while playing the slowest pace in the league. 

He also made his presence known with his tendency to play against his players before games, during practices and after practices. It’s a trait that sets him apart from many other coaches who tend to stick to the sidelines rather than lace up a pair of Nike’s to compete. And now, it’s something he will take with him to Vanderbilt.

Stackhouse and Vanderbilt reached a six-year agreement for Stackhouse to become the head coach, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Friday. In Stackhouse, Vanderbilt gets a young, up-and-coming coach who has had success at each of his stops. And while he leaves Memphis before completing a full season, head coach J.B Bickerstaff couldn’t be happier for him.

“Guys want to be head coaches, they want to run their own programs,” Bickerstaff said. “Any time they get an opportunity to do that, it’s a blessing because it doesn’t happen for everybody. Looking forward to seeing him take advantage of it. As a coach, the toughness that he brought us, the defensive mindset, the ability to help players develop, I think in the college game he’s going to have a lot of success because he does know how to teach the game and when you’re working with young kids who are a fresh slate, he can lead a huge imprint on them.”

Almost everyone who knows Stackhouse knew about his aspirations to become a head coach. It’s a goal he’s often stated himself, and one made obvious when he left the G League ranks to become an assistant NBA coach last summer.

Stackhouse wasn’t at FedExForum with the Grizzlies on Sunday, as he is in the process of transitioning into being the head coach at Vanderbilt. There was some surprise in the Grizzlies’ locker room Sunday that Stackhouse left for a college coaching job. The prevailing thought was that his next job would be within the NBA ranks. But there were zero reservations about his ability to succeed at the college level.

“The things he tries to teach each day, one of the biggest things was to try to focus and pay attention to detail, which is very, very important, especially at this level and at the college level, to be honest,” Holiday said. “A lot of times, the teams that do things right the most, the ones that have a good chance of winning, are playing hard. He was a defensive coach as well. We all know defense wins games, but we all know Stack can put that ball in the basket. I think it’s going to be good for the players he has there, developing them to be complete players and learn how to play this game and do the best they can to get to this next level or just be as good as they can in college.”

Stackhouse has long prepared for this moment. He was promoted from Raptors assistant to Raptors 905 head coach during summer 2016, where he remained until joining the Grizzlies this past summer.

Grizzlies players believe Stackhouse’s intense, hands-on style of coaching is a good fit for the college level. Not only will his brand of engagement help, but the belief is that his name will too. Stackhouse’s 18-year NBA career included two All-Star berths. And prior to that, he was a star at North Carolina under Dean Smith. 

“I think (his name is) going to carry a lot of weight, for sure,” Holiday said. “The funny thing about it is, though, is we all get older. I know people from my time who know who Stackhouse is. I hope these young boys know and do their research. But they know the name. I just hope they go and see who Stack was. I think he’ll be fine man, absolutely.”

Grizzlies players also believe that Stackhouse will be an awesome recruiter. After all, what teenager wouldn’t want to be coached by a possible future Hall of Famer? It helps that Stackhouse has experience dealing with teenagers. In 2011, he launched and ran Stackhouse Elite, an Atlanta-based AAU program for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds. 

“You’re playing for a guy who played at the highest level,” Julian Washburn said. “Most coaches in college didn’t get to play at the highest level. They’re still great coaches but you have a coach who played at the highest level. Playing for a guy like this, man. I know he’s going to do great things there and I can’t wait to see what he does next year.”

“It’s gonna translate well because they’re going to need that discipline in college coming out of high school, or some of the guys that are already in college,” Wright added. “I think he’ll be good with keeping them in line and also just teaching them because he’s a future Hall of Famer. That’ll help.”

More than anything, Grizzlies players will remember Stackhouse for his intensity — which he brought to everything, whether it’s was during a drill or from the sideline during a game. Beyond playing against players, Stackhouse also could demonstrate defensive concepts on the court himself, leaving little doubt for the team as far as what they were supposed to accomplish. 

“He brings a competitiveness to the game,” Mike Conley said in November. “If guys lacked it at all, he brings it out of you. Any kind of drill, any kind of session, defensively, offensively, he’s always trying to really make you uncomfortable. And that’s a good thing. I think guys are really learning from that and they’re finding out who they are, just from being around him.”

He especially left an impression on the Grizzlies’ former Raptors players — Wright, C.J. Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and Bruno Caboclo. Bickerstaff leaned on Stackhouse’s knowledge of those guys when they arrived in Memphis at the trade deadline, and in Caboclo’s case, when he signed with the Grizzlies on a 10-day contract in January.

Caboclo was drafted by the Raptors in 2015 and spent several seasons with Raptors 905, where Stackhouse helped mold him into an NBA role player. 

“He tries to push you to the max,” Caboclo said. “If you make a mistake, he’s going to be on you.”

“It’s sad, but I’m very happy for him to get that job,” Caboclo added. “I think he’d like a lot to be in the head coach position, and there he can run his show. He’ll do great and I think he wants to be a coach in the NBA, so after those six years I’m sure he will be back.”