Editor’s note: In the days leading up to the June 25 NBA draft, reporter Zack Rosenblatt will take a trip down memory lane, dig into the Star archives, and look at some of Arizona’s former NBA draftees, the path that took them to the pros, and what they’ve done since then.
Throughout his basketball career, Damon Stoudamire has a tendency to leave a place much beloved.
He left his hometown of Portland for the Arizona Wildcats and Tucson.
After four years, he left Tucson and the UA for a long career in the NBA, including a return back to Portland for seven years in the pros.
How much does Portland love Mighty Mouse? A local brewery named a beer Damon Stoutmire after the city’s revered point guard.
After a couple of years on Sean Miller’s staff as an assistant, Stoudamire left again for Memphis.
Regardless, the short-in-stature Stoudamire is one of the Arizona faithful’s all-time favorite players for what he did as a Wildcat and also afterward.
Here’s a look back at Stoudamire’s path to the NBA draft.
At Arizona: He was supposed to go to Louisville.
In 1991, as the 5-foot-10-inch guard neared a college decision, the Cardinals were the presumed favorite. In the end, though, Stoudamire picked the Wildcats, of course.
“I went back and forth quite a bit, but Arizona’s pitch never changed. They’ve been there from the start,” Stoudamire told the Star. “Lute Olson said the same things to me that he said all along.”
Stoudamire was the crown jewel of a class that included forward Ray Owes, and he certainly lived up to that, progressing over his four-year career from a reserve point guard to a consensus All-American as a senior.
In his final two years, he averaged 18.3 and 22.8 points per game, along with 7.3 assists per game as a senior. He also scored 45 points against Stanford in a 1995 game and 40 against Washington State in another. Oh, and he helped the Wildcats to the Final Four in 1994, scoring 27 points in an Elite Eight win against Missouri.
Stoudamire considered leaving early for the draft after his junior year, but ultimately returned as a senior, which proved to be a smart move for his NBA draft stock.
The draft: Stoudamire was viewed as a “but” player entering the draft. What does that mean?
Scouting reports would say: “he has tremendous skills … but he’s only 5-10.”
His height, seemingly, was his Achilles’ heel. But in a weak point guard draft, he still seemed to be a lock for the first round and a likely top-15 pick.
Still, the Atlanta Hawks’ vice president, Pete Babcock, said, ““If you’re small, you have to do something very, very well ... and I don’t know if Stoudamire will.”
Before the draft, Stoudamire visited the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors.
Ultimately, Toronto’s general manager — Hall of Fame point guard Isaiah Thomas — wanted a point guard, so they picked Stoudamire at No. 7, making him the highest drafted player under 6 feet since the lottery was established in 1985.
Toronto fans — yearning for UCLA star Ed O’Bannon — booed Stoudamire when he was announced as the Raptors pick.
From the archives: “I wasn’t bummed (when the fans booed). Once everything wears off initially, the fans will come to realize what Damon Stoudamire is all about.” — Stoudamire to the Star after the draft.
As a pro: Stoudamire burst out the gates as a rookie, totaling 19.0 points, 9.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, winning the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
In his second year in Toronto, he posted a career-high 20.2 scoring average. In the midst of Year 3, Stoudamire was traded to Portland in a five-player deal, sending Stoudamire back to his hometown.
Stoudamire spent seven years as a Blazer, making the playoffs five times, including two Western Conference finals. He spent the last three years of his career in Memphis and San Antonio. He considered trying out for the Houston Rockets before the 2008-09 season, but instead chose to retire after 13 years in the league.
Soon after, Stoudamire began his coaching career, starting out as a director of player development at Rice. He was then an assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies under Henry Bibby, was with the Memphis Tigers on Josh Pastner’s staff for two years, then spent another two in Tucson before deciding in May to return to Memphis on Pastner’s staff.