Stackhouse is his own man

Wizards: Often compared to Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse has established his own identity as he joins his fellow ex-Tar Heel in Washington.

Pro Basketball

October 06, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- For as long as Jerry Stackhouse can remember, talk of one kind or another has been running after him like an opposing guard through a screen.

His critics, from his collegiate days at North Carolina, into the NBA, where he supposedly couldn't play with Allen Iverson or Grant Hill, branded him selfish, and it took seven years of his professional career to finally quell that talk.

Now, as he begins a new season as the shooting guard for the Washington Wizards, Stackhouse is preparing to go head-to-head with the chatter that has dogged him the longest: that he would never measure up to Michael Jordan, the man he has been compared to, seemingly, through his entire life.

As the Wizards continue training camp on the North Carolina-Wilmington campus, it's a good thing for Stackhouse that he hasn't been paying attention to the talk.

"I've been myself," Stackhouse said. "I've established my identity and who I am. It was flattering at first, of being compared to Michael Jordan, as a number of guys were. I've looked at it as a huge compliment, coming out of college.

"But I'm more than that. I know that everything that I have and all the things that have made me who I am, I had to work for, and not have to ride on anything that Michael Jordan's done. It's been good, and these last few days have been great. I've been able to pick up some things from him and he's shown me some things. I'm looking forward to it [playing with Jordan]."

Jordan, the once and future president of the Wizards, is apparently looking forward to it, too. After working out with Stackhouse in Chicago this summer in preparation for the coming season, Jordan moved to trade promising shooting guard Richard Hamilton and reserve guards Bobby Simmons and Hubert Davis to Detroit for Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda on Sept. 11.

Though Jordan thought highly of Hamilton, who is three years younger than Stackhouse, he wanted his fellow former Tar Heel to be with him through the fourth quarters of games, pulling out close decisions that eluded the Wizards during last year's 37-45 campaign.

"He's more physical [than Hamilton]," Jordan said. "He gets to the free-throw line and his rebounding capabilities are great. Rip [Hamilton] was great moving without the ball. Jerry's more with the ball in his hands. He's a penetrator. He's really challenging the bigger guys. Rip didn't challenge the bigger guys as much."

Indeed, Jordan took notice that Stackhouse led the league in free throws per 48 minutes and was fourth in the league in free throws made, meaning he is more willing and physically able -- weighing roughly 20 more pounds than Hamilton -- to mix it up in the lane and draw fouls.

In other words, Jordan likely saw much of himself in Stackhouse, as many people have since Stackhouse, a North Carolina high school legend, followed him to Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina.

Like Jordan, Stackhouse was a gifted athlete with phenomenal leaping ability who became an All-American and national Player of the Year and led the Tar Heels to a Final Four in 1995.

Unlike Jordan, Stackhouse didn't win a national title and left North Carolina as a sophomore, while Jordan jumped to the NBA after his junior year.

Stackhouse was taken third in the 1995 draft by Philadelphia in the same slot that Jordan was taken, and, like Jordan, heard the whispers that he was an unconscious gunner who would never lead his team to a title.

But while Jordan eventually was surrounded by a supporting cast that let his talent blossom into six NBA titles, Stackhouse found it difficult to fit in, as his game clashed with Iverson's, and he was traded to the Pistons in December 1997.

Stackhouse and Hill were unable to mesh their games in Detroit, and Hill eventually left as a free agent three seasons ago, going to Orlando.

Meanwhile, Stackhouse put up big scoring numbers for mediocre teams, averaging 29.8 points for Detroit in the 2000-01 season, when the Pistons went 32-50.

However, Detroit made a coaching change after that season, with Rick Carlisle replacing interim coach George Irvine, and Carlisle brought in a new system, one that leaned heavily on defense and sharing the ball on offense.

Critics said Stackhouse would never buy into Carlisle's program, but the guard improved his defense and took seven fewer shots a game. The Pistons won 50 games and the Central Division title before bowing to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In the process, Stackhouse got a measure of redemption, though he never felt he needed it.

"I don't think I changed anything," Stackhouse said. "It's about winning games. A lot of times, perception changes, and we were able to win. I had a few more talented players around me that took the load off. Here [in Washington], we have a few more scorers to take the load off offensively, where I'll be able to focus in and be even better defensively.

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