Jerry Stackhouse was back at North Carolina on Tuesday, back in the Smith Center. He didn't recognize parts of campus that have changed in the past two decades since he was an All-American who helped lead UNC to the Final Four.
He saw pictures of himself on the walls, images of a younger man “with a little hair,” he said. That was a sight, too. Stackhouse came back to the Smith Center to lead his NBA Developmental League team in a practice, to show it around some.
He's the head coach of the Raptors 905, a D-League team based in Mississauga, Ontario. This is his first year in that role, and Stackhouse is doing a little bit of everything, as D-League head coaches have to do. He's like a head coach, general manager and travel coordinator wrapped up in one.
Coaching is his future, though, and what he wants to do – preferably in the pros, he said. And yet there's one particular place in college where he'd consider coming back to coach.
“Just one,” Stackhouse said, breaking into a wide smile. “And you can take a guess on that one.”
Indeed, Stackhouse said coaching at UNC “would be the dream job.”
“For anybody that ever had any aspirations of coaching,” Stackhouse said UNC would be that.
“But I'm good,” he said. “I'm learning, getting a ton of experience, again, of running a team. Not just coaching X's and O's. To me that's almost the easy part.”
Everything else has been the challenge: forming relationships with players, building enough trust so that they believe in what Stackhouse is trying to teach. And then there are the responsibilities that go beyond coaching – things like coordinating the travel.
This trip began with a 5 ½ hour bus ride to Canton, Ohio. The team played there, then flew to Portland, Maine. From there the team flew to Charlotte and rode a bus to Greensboro, where it will play on Wednesday night against the Greensboro Swarm.
After the game, it'll be back on a bus to Charlotte to an airport hotel, and then to the airport to fly home. D-League travel isn't exactly like NBA travel, with the chartered planes and glitzy hotels. Stackhouse said he and his team stay in Holiday Inn Expresses and airport Marriotts. They fly commercial.
“They don't shortchange us on that stuff,” he said. “And as much as we can get direct flights, we do.”
He acknowledged the obvious: No one in the D-League really wants to be in the D-League. Not the players, who are hopeful of working their way up to the NBA. And not the coaches, many of whom, like Stackhouse, are working with grander aspirations.
Stackhouse played 19 seasons in the NBA, and played in nearly 1,000 games. It wasn't until the end of his career that he began thinking about coaching professionally, after he started Stackhouse Elite, his successful AAU program. Now he wants to work his way up, same as his players.
The Raptors 905 roster is mostly comprised of former college players. C.J. Leslie, the former N.C. State forward, is on the team. He was back in the Smith Center on Tuesday, too, while his young son watched practice.
At the end of practice, a couple of players took selfies while standing on UNC's logo at mid-court. Unlike Leslie, who played in three games at the Smith Center during his time at N.C. State, most of his teammates had only heard of this place, or seen it on TV.
That was part of the reason why Stackhouse brought his team over, he said. He had a chance, too, to spend some time with UNC coach Roy Williams, who tried to recruit Stackhouse to play at Kansas. Stackhouse said Williams asked him, joking: “You sure you want to get into this crazy business?”
Stackhouse sounded sure on Tuesday.
“I want to coach at the highest level,” he said. “I'd love the opportunity to actually run a team, too. I think those are where my sights are. My dream world would be to be a head coach and be able to put together a team, assemble a team, as well.”
He's most accustomed to the pro game. He likes that coaching in the pros involves more basketball, and less off-the-court responsibilities that aren't so much related to the game. He likes that “when practice is over,” he said, “they get to go home and I don't have to worry about them until the next day.”
And yet there's one college where he wouldn't mind working, either.