Always-prepared Stackhouse fills immediate need for Heat

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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MIAMI -- Pressing his left shoulder against Jerry Stackhouse's chest, Heat guard Dwyane Wade lined up in the postup position.

Based on their current statistics, the practice matchup between Wade, a perennial NBA All-Star at his peak, and Stackhouse, a veteran far removed from his superstar heyday, looked to be a lopsided affair.

But as Wade flashed an array of hip fakes, Stackhouse almost immediately poked the ball out of the guard's right hand, showing that crafty intellect could still sporadically defy explosive talent.

Jerry Stackhouse was ready when the Miami Heat were looking for help. (AP)  
Jerry Stackhouse was ready when the Miami Heat were looking for help. (AP)  
"We're not always going to have these," Stackhouse said, pointing to his 36-year-old legs. "So you've got to be able to extend your career by being able to go down in that post and do some things."

Imagine making that adjustment with only two days of training camp preparation. But those are the unconventional circumstances Stackhouse faces during his 16th season in the NBA.

When Mike Miller went down with a thumb injury in late October, the Heat signed Stackhouse just three days before their Oct. 26 season opener against Boston, leaving him virtually no time to learn coach Erik Spoelstra's system.

The process, of course, wasn't anything new to Stackhouse. Last year, Milwaukee didn't sign him until mid-January. But despite missing half the season, Stackhouse managed to fool Father Time, averaging 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 42 games.

"He keeps himself in perfect shape," Spoelstra said, explaining the key to Stackhouse's longevity. "He's 7 percent body fat right now, and he looks like he's 27 years old."

But Stackhouse also achieved those results by taking a page out of another athlete's playbook for missing training camp -- Brett Favre.

Like the Minnesota Vikings quarterback, Stackhouse has maintained his fitness level at a local high school the past two years, training with the North Gwinnett (Ga.) High School basketball team in preparation for a midseason comeback.

Missing training camp isn't the ideal situation for Stackhouse. But plagued by multiple knee surgeries and a surplus of mileage, he realizes waiting for a championship-contending franchise to reach out to him is his only option.

"You get to the point where people are not aware that you still want to play or question if you can play," Stackhouse said.

But mentally preparing for that phone call at any given moment of any given day has proved to be a challenge.

Just a month ago, Stackhouse was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., leisurely tending to his boat with his free time. The temptation to skip out on his workouts to enjoy the sunny South Florida weather was at its highest.

"That's the hard part because it's easy to say 'Because I didn't get picked up until last year in January, I'm not going to start taking my [workouts] seriously until maybe December,'" Stackhouse said. "But I felt that because of the success I had in Milwaukee, that maybe the opportunity would come a little bit sooner."

It did. Days after Stackhouse returned home to Atlanta from Fort Lauderdale, Heat president Pat Riley contacted the veteran's agent when he learned that Miller would be sidelined for a few months.

Considering Miami was playing Atlanta that week, Spoelstra worked out Stackhouse in the comforts of his hometown. And he passed with flying colors to the delight of his new teammates.

"The fact he missed training camp doesn't hinder him too much from what he needs to do," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "I mean shoot, Jerry has been doing this for a while. He knows how to play and he's gotten in shape when he needed to."

Now, Stackhouse said, it's a matter of learning all the intricacies of Spoelstra's system, a factor that has partially limited him to playing in just five of the Heat's first 11 games this season.

"I think it was a little bit of an adjustment at first because he came right into this situation without [training camp]," Spoelstra said. "The fact he's played for so many teams and he has the experience -- that helps but you still need to understand our terminology and what's important to us."

But Stackhouse is willing to make the necessary adjustments to prolong his career, especially as he teams up with Wade, Bosh and LeBron James this season.

Although he said back-to-back games are harder to endure these days, Stackhouse believes his crafty intellect could still sporadically defy explosive talent en route to an NBA championship.

"I feel like [by] pretty much by doing that and keeping myself ready, I can tell myself when I want to stop playing as opposed to somebody else dictating it for me," Stackhouse said. "I know I can bring something to the table. I got called by the Miami Heat and that's saying something."

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