- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

While playing for the Detroit Pistons last year, Jerry Stackhouse scored 751 fewer points than he did the prior season. You could chalk that up to better judgment he didn't take nearly as many shots except that Stackhouse's shooting percentage was worse, and it was much worse from 3-point range. He also had fewer assists, steals and offensive rebounds.

But by season's end, everybody was talking about his terrific all-around game, how he transformed himself from a reportedly selfish player bent only on scoring into a versatile team guy who helped lead the Pistons into the playoffs.

"It's funny," said Stackhouse, a two-time All-Star acquired by the Wizards in a six-player trade that sent Richard Hamilton to Detroit, "how perceptions change whenever you win.

"Last year was like redemption. Everything people said I didn't do, I was able to do, without compromising myself as a player."

Said Pistons coach Rick Carlisle, "He was one of the most unfairly-maligned players I've ever known in the league. He was a great teammate and a leader."

Then again, Wizards coach Doug Collins, who coached Stackhouse in Detroit, said, "He's a much better all-around player than he was early in his career. He's grown up so much."

Stackhouse himself said he is pretty much the same player he ever was, a tough, strong 6-foot-6 guard with the ability and creativity to score from anywhere. "Most guys, they're either a shooter or a slasher," he said. "I think I'm kind of a mix of both, being able to shoot the ball as well as drive to the basket."

Stackhouse is the key element of a thorough Wizards makeover that, by all accounts, has turned the club into a playoff contender. "Stack," as he is known, figures to start at the shooting guard position, with Michael Jordan likely backing him up.

Like most sports transactions, the trade was primarily a business deal. Stackhouse can become a free agent after the season, and the Pistons decided to get something in return rather than risk his walking away.

Another alternative for Detroit would have been to re-sign Stackhouse, but Pistons owner Bill Davidson wanted no part of shelling out the $85-$100million that approximates his market value.

"There were issues surrounding the trade," said Carlisle, who was not consulted on the deal. "I can't comment on them. There were non-basketball related things."

Stackhouse turns 28 next month, a young veteran already starting his eighth season. He left North Carolina after his sophomore year and was selected by Philadelphia with the third pick in the 1995 draft. Regardless of where he ends up next year, the Wizards are clearly happy to have him this season.

"We feel he's at the prime of his career," said Collins, who, during the 1997-98 season with Detroit, traded Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie and a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Stackhouse and center Eric Montross.

Stackhouse's court skills speak for themselves, but he also adds a feisty presence to a team that already has Jordan and Charles Oakley to provide veteran leadership. "Jerry brings an edge," said Collins, kind of an edgy sort himself. "I like that."

Speaking his mind

Impetuous and headstrong, Stackhouse never has been reluctant to share his feelings, offering opinions to opponents and teammates alike in an occasionally confrontational fashion. He's calmed down a bit, "but I can still burn the candle if I have to," he said. "But I contend I don't think I've ever gotten into it with anybody that didn't have it coming to them."

That presumably would include Wizards forward Christian Laettner, who ended up with a black eye after an altercation with Stackhouse during a card game on the team plane when both were with the Pistons.

"It was two men," Stackhouse said. "That's all I have to say. It got a little out of hand. But like with all the negative [expletive] with that story, nobody knew we were together the next day at his house. We were over it. We were past it. We talked and got it all out of the way. He'd come over and we'd eat shrimp. He'd buy 'em and I'd fry 'em."

Stackhouse said if he believes a teammate isn't in tune with the rest of the team, "I've got a problem with it and I'm not gonna be able to hold my tongue and not say anything about it."

Such was the case in Detroit with teammate Grant Hill, a perennial All-Star, whom Stackhouse thought was a bit too fond of the ball shooting over double teams, failing to hit the open man, things like that. Stackhouse felt compelled to verbalize those thoughts.

"I didn't think I had to pay homage to Grant Hill," he said. "He's a great player. I competed against him when he was at Duke, and I beat him. I competed against him when I was with lowly Philadelphia. And I beat him. The feeling was on the whole team, but nobody wanted to say it."

Nobody but Stack.

Stackhouse said he can take it as well as dish it out, but he said a newspaper column written after the trade was unfair. The column, appearing in the Detroit Free-Press, essentially questioned Stackhouse's leadership and his ability to raise the game of his teammates. "Jerry has many strengths," the column read. "Inspiring others does not top the list."

That hurt. If you want to talk about inspiration, he said, look at what the Pistons did last season. Stackhouse was the best player on a team that not only made the playoffs (beating Toronto in the first round, losing to Boston in the second), that not only improved by 18 games and finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but also won the Central Division for the first time since 1990, the back-to-back championship days of the Bad Boys.

The tough, gritty play of Carlisle's Pistons sometimes conjured such memories.

"How many people played in the league and can't say they were the champions of anything?" he said. "That speaks for itself, when you walk into the Palace [at Auburn Hills] and see that division banner. I knew I was a major part of that happening."

A changed man

Two years ago, Stackhouse hoisted 1,927 shots, the most since Jordan took 2,003 shots for the champion Chicago Bulls in 1993. Stackhouse said it was more a matter of necessity than greed, and if you don't believe it, check Detroit's roster. The 2000-2001 Pistons, who went 32-50, gave Stackhouse little help.

In addition to hiring Carlisle, a former University of Virginia standout and Indiana Pacers assistant, the Pistons last year got forward Clifford Robinson to take some of the load off Stackhouse. Corliss Williamson blossomed as a sixth-man, Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins were better offensively and the defense helped create scoring opportunities.

"I don't think I did anything differently," Stackhouse said. "The year before, when I scored almost 30 points a game, I had to score almost 30 points a game. Last year, I didn't have to. But I read so much about how [president of basketball operations] Joe Dumars had to sit me down, how Rick sat me down and said, 'You've got to do this.' None of it's true."

Stackhouse did say that he and Carlisle talked frequently "about what he wanted me to do," and acknowledged a "special bond" with his coach.

"He showed me a better way to do things," Stackhouse said.

"I think our system was different from what he was accustomed to," said Carlisle. "I think it's important to make clear that, whatever he did, he did on his own. It wasn't that anybody put a gun to his head. He showed that he was a team player, and that he was about winning.

"Jerry and I still have a close relationship. When you get your first head coaching job, the relationship you have with your best player is critical. Stack and I spent a lot of time together, privately, talking basketball, talking issues. We weren't always in agreement, but we always came to an understanding about the best direction the team should be headed."

Learning from a legend

Stackhouse said he was surprised at the trade (he said his agent told him he would be staying in Detroit) but is delighted to be joining the Wizards. "This is where I want to be," he said. "I don't think there could be a more perfect scenario."

An obvious attraction is getting to play with Jordan, whom Stackhouse has frequently competed against but never with. A native of Kinston, N.C., Stackhouse was hailed as "the next Jordan" when he went to North Carolina, an almost impossible standard to achieve. Stackhouse failed to win an NCAA championship, as Jordan did, in his two years at Chapel Hill. But he had an outstanding, albeit brief career, and even went back a few years later to earn his degree.

Jordan is a big fan of Stackhouse he recruited him for pick-up games last year during his comeback and the two spent a lot of time together during training camp in Wilmington, N.C.

"In an eerie sort of way, I always thought our paths would probably cross," Stackhouse said.

For his off-court endeavors he is in the right place, too. Stackhouse is involved in numerous charities and causes, especially promoting diabetes awareness and education and lobbying for increased funding to fight the disease. Two of his sisters died from diabetes, and his mom is confronting it.

"That's why my passion is so strong," said Stackhouse, who recently went to Capitol Hill and addressed the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, which is dealing with legislation on diabetes among minorities. "I lost two of my sisters, a sister who was almost like a mother to me. I don't want people who have diabetes in their families to go through what I went through."

A couple of weeks ago, Stackhouse was invited to the White House as part of his Read to Achieve child literacy program. He got to talk with first lady Laura Bush and presented her with an autographed basketball.

"It was unbelievable," he said. "Five years ago, seven, eight years ago, I don't think they'd want me talking to Mrs. Bush. But now I'm the chosen one."

The Wizards hope so too.

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