Georgia Tech moved quickly to chart its new course in men’s basketball. Boston Celtics assistant coach Damon Stoudamire was hired Monday as the new coach of the Yellow Jackets. Following reports of the 13-year NBA veteran emerging as a candidate in the morning, the hire was finalized in the afternoon.
The move comes three days after athletic director J Batt dismissed coach Josh Pastner after seven seasons.
“I am humbled and honored to be the head coach at Georgia Tech,” Stoudamire said in a statement. “It is an incredible honor to be entrusted with leading such a tradition-rich program. I am excited to get to work with the goal of consistently having our team compete at the championship level that we all know we can and should compete at. I’m proud to represent Georgia Tech and can’t wait to walk out of the tunnel and onto the floor at the Thrillerdome in front of our fans. Go Jackets!”
The Celtics were to play Monday night on the road against Houston; Stoudamire is to be introduced Tuesday morning at a news conference at Tech.
In hiring a coach directly from the NBA with five years of head coaching experience at a mid-major school in another part of the country (Pacific) in which he led his team to one winning season, Batt went against convention. Tech’s history has been finding its coaches directly from the mid-major level, including Pastner from Memphis in 2016. After his dismissal on Friday, mid-major coaches from the Southeast, such as Kennesaw State’s Amir Abdur-Rahim, Tulane’s Ron Hunter and Furman’s Bob Richey, were speculated as possible hires.
Put another way, Batt has landed a coach whose NBA playing and coaching credentials could get the attention of recruits and who demonstrated that he could produce a winning team in a competitive mid-major conference. In succeeding Pastner, who actually gave Stoudamire his first college coaching job at Memphis in 2011, Stoudamire takes over a team that has promise but also had a 27-38 record in the past two seasons.
It is in a similar vein to other college programs handing over their whistles to prominent NBA players, such as Georgetown (Patrick Ewing), Vanderbilt (Jerry Stackhouse) and Memphis (Penny Hardaway). While a small sample size, results have been mixed. Hardaway, who was a high school coach before he was hired at Memphis, has led the Tigers to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. In his fourth season, Stackhouse (previously a coach in the NBA and G League) has led the Commodores to their first 20-win season since the 2014-15 season. Ewing was fired last week after his sixth season, including a 7-25 record this year.
Stoudamire is different in that he has coached at the college level. Prior to his five years at Pacific, he coached at Memphis (twice for a total of three seasons, all on Pastner’s bench) and his alma mater Arizona (two seasons). In his five combined seasons at Memphis and Arizona, his teams went to the NCAA Tournament four times.
Karl McCray, president of the AAU Atlanta Celtics (one of the preeminent grassroots basketball programs in the state), approved of the hire.
“Obviously, he has the college and pro experience, he’s familiar with the AAU guys’ world, so it’s good relations with the guys in this business,” McCray told The Atlanta Journal-Contitution. “I think Georgia Tech has made a good choice.”
Batt did not delay in finding a new coach. Stoudamire’s Celtics were in Atlanta to play the Hawks on Saturday, which would have given Batt and Stoudamire an opportunity to meet face to face. As a Boston assistant coach, he helped the Celtics reach the NBA Finals, where they fell to the Golden State Warriors.
Stoudamire has been on the Celtics staff for two seasons after five years as the head coach at Pacific (2016-21), his only head coaching job to this point. He had previously been an assistant coach for Pastner at Memphis first 2011-13 and then the 2015-16 season, which immediately preceded his jump to Pacific. At the West Coast Conference school, Stoudamire inherited a team that was 20-39 in the two years prior to his arrival. His teams’ records over five years: 11-22, 14-18, 14-18, 23-10, 9-9. He was named WCC coach of the year in the 20-win season, 2019-20. He left Pacific after the 2020-21 season to work with then-Celtics coach Ime Udoka, a childhood friend of Stoudamire’s.
The connection with Pastner would seem an unusual coincidence. The two former Arizona players (one an All-American, the other a benchwarmer) first met when Stoudamire returned to campus in 1998 to work out and Pastner was a team member, according to an Arizona Daily Star story in 2011 reporting Stoudamire’s hire at Memphis. Stoudamire coached for Pastner for two years, left for Arizona and returned to Memphis in 2015, Pastner’s final season at the school before his hire at Tech.
“I have great respect for his basketball IQ, and he’s got a very good approach about him,” Pastner told the Daily Star in 2011. “He’s very even-keeled. He knows the way I like to play, which is the way coach (Lute) Olson liked to play.”
An even more remarkable coincidence: Stoudamire is the godfather of Tech guard Kyle Sturdivant, whose late father Gary Sturdivant was good friends with Stoudamire.
After a record-setting career at Arizona, Stoudamire was the seventh overall pick of the 1995 draft and averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists in a 13-year NBA career, playing his last season in 2008.
“We are thrilled that Damon Stoudamire will be the head coach of our storied men’s basketball program,” Batt said in a statement. “Coach Stoudamire’s success and credibility as a player and coach at both the collegiate and professional levels make him a great fit to lead our program. He will serve as an outstanding mentor on and off the court and will attract talented student-athletes to The Flats. We could not be happier to welcome Coach Stoudamire to the Georgia Tech family.”
The statement from school President Ángel Cabrera: “We are excited to welcome Coach Stoudamire to Georgia Tech. His impressive track record as a coach in college and the NBA, and his own experience as a student-athlete and professional player, will be invaluable assets for the Institute’s men’s basketball program and our student-athletes. His passion for player development and continuous improvement aligns with our culture of excellence and our commitment to student well-being and success.”