After injuries kept him out of the NBA this season, the player who led the Conquerors to the state title in 2004 is giving coaching a try.
Home during the 2014 NBA All-Star break, Rodney Stuckey felt a pull.
Not from an injury. On that February night, it was a tug to get back in the huddle — with Kentwood’s boys basketball team.
Then a guard for the Detroit Pistons, Stuckey was in the stands to catch his alma mater face Auburn in a playoff game. The atmosphere was electric; the Conquerors lost by six points in overtime.
Suddenly, Stuckey wanted to be back at Kentwood, this time as a coach. It took four years, but Stuckey is on the sideline as part of Blake Solomon’s staff.
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“I just wanted to be around and give my basketball knowledge to the kids,” said Stuckey, who teamed with Solomon on Kentwood’s 2004 Class 4A state-championship team.
The No. 8 Conquerors (16-4) won the North Puget Sound League Cascade Division title and play No. 3 Federal Way (20-0) on Saturday at Tahoma for the league crown.
The Pistons drafted Stuckey, who starred at Eastern Washington, in the first round of the 2007 NBA draft. The 6-foot-5 shooter was waived by Indiana last year and opted to take time to fully heal pulled-hamstring injuries in both legs and a strained patella tendon in his right knee. Taking time away from the NBA also allowed him to be present for the birth of his fourth child.
“I definitely have a lot of time left in my body,” said Stuckey, 31, who averaged 12.6 points and 3.6 assists per game in 10 NBA seasons. “It was just important for me mentally and physically to give my body a rest. I can get back after it next year, and I know I can play another two to three years. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do that and then still feel young and be able to run around with my own kids in retirement.”
Solomon, who took the position in 2012, jumped at the chance to add Stuckey to his staff. The pair remained close friends after high school. Solomon often organized summer pickup games when Stuckey returned from NBA seasons.
Stuckey frequently talked to Solomon’s teams about the game and kept track of the Conquerors as a senior-laden group won the state championship last year. He’s a volunteer coach for Kentwood (his last contract, signed in 2015, was for three years and $21 million).
“He relates to them really well,” Solomon said. “And even though I played as well, he plays at such a high level that he sees things (on the court) that I don’t see. He adds a lot of real unique insight for our kids. He’s been really good.”
Kentwood returned just one player who contributed to the state-title run last season. The inexperience showed in a season-opening loss to Bishop Blanchet. The Conquerors matched up well in their other games and are expected to advance to the state tournament.
Stuckey said Kentwood’s chemistry and defensive mindset are reminiscent of his state-championship season. He was the tournament’s MVP, scoring 18 points in the title game against South Kitsap.
“The good thing about this group of guys that we’re coaching is they want to learn and they want to get better,” Stuckey said. “If you have knuckleheads on your team that don’t want to listen or always have an attitude, it’s not going to make the job fun.
“But Blake is a great coach. He knows how to get his guys going and motivate them. It’s been awesome to be around.”