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9 Detroit Pistons Jerry Stackhouse is ready to work with Grant Hill, but not to worship him

Earlier this year Pistons shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse was
telling a reporter how excited he was about the 1999-2000
campaign. "I just look at next year," Stackhouse said. "It's all
I can focus on. I just have to put in a lot of work to make sure
I have myself ready." While it's admirable that Stackhouse was
rarin' to get the upcoming season under way, it should be noted
that when he gave the interview, the 1998-99 season was still
going on.

You can't blame Stackhouse for wanting to write off last
season--even before it ended. After all, there are bad years,
and then there is Jerry Stackhouse's 1999. His 45-year-old
sister, Lois, died of diabetes last February, six years after
his sister Jean, 44, died of the same disease. Doctors informed
Stackhouse that there was a high probability that his child, due
in September, would be born with Down's syndrome. He dotted the
eye of forward Christian Laettner on a team flight following an
argument over a card game. That incident, coupled with rumors
that he was feuding with All-Star forward Grant Hill, gave the
24-year-old Stackhouse an unseemly reputation.

On the court things weren't much better. His starting job was
given to Joe Dumars, who was making a farewell circuit in his
14th season--and coming off the bench didn't agree with
Stackhouse. His scoring average dipped to 14.5 points, 4.7 fewer
than when he was an all-rookie pick for the 76ers four years
ago. He shot 37.1% from the floor. He was seldom around at
crunch time. "With all those other things weighing on your
mind," Stackhouse says, "basketball can get lost."

The Pistons hope Stackhouse is ready to put last year's miseries
behind him and find his game, because whether or not they can
advance past the first round of the playoffs, something they
haven't done since 1990-91, will depend largely on his play. "I
look at last year as a 50-game fluke season," Stackhouse says.
"I've got it out of my mind." With Dumars retired, Stackhouse
knows he will be in at the start and at the finish, and get lots
of minutes in between. "I know I've got time to get into the
flow of the game," he says.

His coach agrees. "You'll see a more relaxed player," says Alvin
Gentry. "Other than Grant, he's the most important player on our
team." While he's not the long-range shooter Dumars was,
Stackhouse is more of a threat to drive to the hole. He also has
a decent midrange J, which will fit nicely in the up-tempo game
now favored by Gentry.

Detroit will have to run more now that Bison Dele has told the
team he'd rather spend his time home on the range than playing
center. The 30-year-old Dele, whose numerous business interests
include a water-purification system in Lebanon, told the league
last week that he intends to retire. At times last season it
appeared that he already had. But even on a bad night, Dele is
more skilled than any of Gentry's other options in the pivot,
namely Eric Montross (whose free throw shooting got so hopeless
last year that he tried firing bank shots and jumpers) and 6'8"
Don Reid. "We'll play somebody there, and they'll do a good job
for us," Gentry says, feverishly rubbing a rabbit's foot. (O.K.,
he wasn't rubbing a rabbit's foot, but he should have been.)

At least the 6'11" Laettner is healthy after missing most of
last season with Achilles tendon and rib injuries. Though he
averaged just 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, the Pistons were 13-3
when he played. Terry Mills and Loy Vaught are versatile,
experienced big bodies, and fourth-year man Jerome Williams
blossomed into a reliable rebounder, snagging 7.0 boards in just
23.1 minutes a game. "You can't win in the playoffs without
establishing a low-post game," says guard Michael Curry. "We've
just got to make do. We've got big guards on this team, so we
can reverse the roles and post up Jerry and Grant, and let
Terry, Loy and Christian shoot jumpers."

Without a scoring center or a viable three-point threat, the
offensive burden is going to fall on Hill and Stackhouse, so it
is essential that the two play nice. The feud talk began when
Stackhouse was critical of Hill during a slide last season, a
heretical position to take in the Motor City. "Every time I do an
interview or talk about our team, I'm not going to pay homage to
Grant," says Stackhouse. "That was the custom around here before
I came. Not that I don't like him or respect what he does, but
we're a team. I don't see it as a feud. It's a lack of
communication. Up until now we didn't feel it was necessary to
communicate. Now it's more important than it's ever been, because
we're the main fixtures on this team."

For his part Hill has suggested that Gentry make Stackhouse, with
him, a co-captain. To facilitate communication, Hill also
requested that the Pistons bring back Curry, a free agent who was
with the team from 1995 to '97. In just five years in the league
Curry has earned a reputation for being one of the best locker
room influences around. He doesn't think mentoring Stackhouse
will be that hard. "The kid comes into the league on a
Philadelphia team that's terrible, that can't teach you anything
about what the NBA is really about," says Curry. "But when you
put him in a positive environment, everything is going to be

Plus, it looks like the kid's luck might be changing. On Sept. 2
Stackhouse's daughter, Alexis, was born. She was perfectly
healthy. Her birth capped a summer in which Stackhouse went back
to North Carolina to finish up his degree in African-American
studies. His heavy course load included a biology lab that
required him to dissect a frog and a fetal pig, but he still
found time to work on his game between classes.

He's not without concerns, though. Commencement activities in
Chapel Hill are on the afternoon of Dec. 18. The Pistons host the
Sixers that night. "Hopefully I can find somebody with a private
jet who can get me down there and back," Stackhouse says. Just a
hunch: If he rediscovers his form as a rookie, the Pistons will
take care of the travel arrangements for him.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS STACKIN' UP After taking his lumps last season, Stackhouse is fired up to start anew.


BENCH [2 1/2 star]
COACH [2 1/2 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [3 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 29-21 (fifth in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Alvin Gentry (third season with Pistons)

AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

PISTONS 90.4 (20) 44.7 (10) 40.3 (20) 15.8 (18)
OPPONENTS 86.9 (7) 43.6 (13) 38.5 (1) 15.4 (16)

In Fact

In the 34 games last season that forward Christian Laettner
missed because of injuries, Detroit's record was 16-18. With a
healthy Laettner in the lineup, including during the playoffs,
the Pistons went 15-6.

Projected Lineup


SF Grant Hill 7 21.1 ppg 7.1 rpg 6.0 apg 47.9 FG%
Led Pistons in scoring, rebounding and assists. Third time he
has done so

PF Christian Laettner 85 7.6 ppg 3.4 rpg 1.5 apg 35.8 FG%
Had injury-plagued season that produced career lows in everything

C Don Reid 241 5.1 ppg 3.6 rpg 0.7 apg 55.7 FG%
Even while at Georgetown averages never topped 7.7 points or 5.9

SG Jerry Stackhouse 67 14.5 ppg 2.5 rpg 2.8 apg 37.1 FG%
Only nine 20-point games last year for onetime 20-per-game scorer

PG Lindsey Hunter 134 11.9 ppg 3.4 rpg 3.9 apg 38.6 3FG%
Raised field goal accuracy from 38.3% in 1997-98 to a
career-high 43.5%


F-C Terry Mills[#][##] 238 4.2 ppg 3.0 rpg 0.8 apg 30.9 3FG%
Because of injury, played only one game last season, with Heat

G Pooh Richardson[#] 269 2.5 ppg 1.2 rpg 2.7 apg 33.3 FG%
Has been on a team with a losing record in nine of his 10 NBA

G Jud Buechler 274 5.5 ppg 2.7 rpg 1.1 apg 41.7 FG%
Made career-high 61 threes and was 10th in league in 3FG% (41.2)

F Jerome Williams 286 7.1 ppg 7.0 rpg 0.5 apg 50.0 FG%
Averaged nearly as many offensive rebounds (3.2) as defensive

G Michael Curry[#] 322 4.9 ppg 2.2 rpg 1.6 apg 43.7 FG%
Augusta native worked on Masters grounds crew in high school

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
[##]1997-98 statistics
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)