While we've been enamored with Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford and Brandon Roy, we forgot about a 2004 all-state boys basketball player. Whatever happened to him...
While we’ve been enamored with Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford and Brandon Roy, we forgot about a 2004 all-state boys basketball player.
Whatever happened to him?
In the past 15 years, this area has become such a rich breeding ground for basketball talent that every so often we lose track of some of the top homegrown products.
It’s been easy to keep tabs on Nate Robinson, the two-sport Washington Huskies star who soared to win an NBA slam-dunk contest. Marvin Williams became a national champion at North Carolina, Roy captured the rookie of the year award last year, and the list of acclaimed players with Western Washington ties goes on an on.
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There’s Spencer Hawes, Luke Ridnour, Marcus Williams, Terrance Williams, the Stewart twins, C.J. Giles and so many others.
But there’s only one still making a meaningful impact in the NBA playoffs.
Say hello again to Rodney Stuckey.
You remember him, right?
The unassuming kid from Kentwood High School in Covington who led the Conquerors to a Class 4A state championship four years ago.
The one who didn’t have the qualifying score to enroll at Washington and Washington State, so he sat out a year and later starred for two seasons at Eastern Washington.
The one who left school with a year of eligibility remaining and was taken 15th overall in the draft by the Detroit Pistons. He missed the first 25 games this season because of a broken left hand and didn’t work himself into the rotation until the second half of the season.
Despite the early setback, they love Stuckey in Detroit. Some folks in the Pistons organization call him Lil’ Joe, which is an endearing reference to team president Joe Dumars.
Everyone in Detroit assumes the 22-year-old is the heir apparent at point guard and will take over full time when Chauncey Billups’ contract expires in 2012. Stuckey has played in 10 playoff games and is averaging 7.3 points and 3.7 assists.
Any doubts about Stuckey’s future with the Pistons were erased in the past two games when Billups suffered a right hamstring strain a week ago and the rookie was thrust into the starting lineup.
Admittedly the pressure got to Stuckey in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Orlando Magic. Stuckey didn’t embarrass himself, but he played just 22 minutes and finished with six points, three assists and five fouls.
He was so ineffective, coach Flip Saunders called on 37-year-old veteran Lindsey Hunter to finish the fourth quarter and guide the Pistons to a 90-89 victory.
“What you saw in Rodney was incredible growth from that game to his next game,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry said. “Yes he’s a rookie and people might say that rookies are supposed to struggle, but it’s not surprising at all that Rodney bounced back and had a great game. At least not to us.
“Rodney is a big-time player. He’s just never had the stage to show it.”
Game 5 was the perfect setting for Stuckey. He told reporters that the jitters from his first playoff start had gone away.
“I’m ready to just play basketball,” he said.
Stuckey played 33 minutes, including the important minutes in the fourth. His decision-making was flawless. He did not make a turnover for the second consecutive game. He doled out six assists, converted 5 of 10 field goals and 5 of 6 from the line for 15 points. His errant free throw was his first miss in 28 attempts in the playoffs.
For one night, Stuckey was the star. Everybody said so. The Pistons. The Magic. Even the analysts.
“Rodney Stuckey is my closer of the night,” TNT’s Charles Barkley said.
Across the country, Idaho men’s basketball assistant Mike Burns beamed with pride.
He was the head coach at Eastern Washington and remembers the day when Stuckey, one of eight newcomers in 2005, took over his team. Playing in their second game against Marquette in the Great Alaska Shootout, the Eagles were in search of a leader.
“In high school Rodney was the wing and we kind of thought that was the position he would play in college, and then we basically gave him the ball and put him at point guard,” Burns said. “He was a natural.”
Stuckey led the Big Sky Conference in scoring two seasons and left with a school-high 24.4 points per-game average, but he was equally impressive as a floor general.
“The one thing that speaks volumes about his ability is we shot 50 percent as a team with him playing the point-guard position,” Burns said. “We were top-five in the country in field-goal percentage. Many people thought he’d go in the top 12 [of the draft] because of what he could do scoring and running a team.”
In hindsight, it was probably best that Stuckey wasn’t a lottery pick and landed with the Pistons.
Take a look around the playoffs.
The only rookie shining this bright is Stuckey.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org