Rodney Stuckey’s Detroit Pistons jersey hangs in a case in the foyer before you walk through the double doors into Kentwood High School’s gymnasium.
Stuckey gets to walk past it just about every day since he joined his alma mater as an assistant basketball coach while he awaits a return to the NBA.
The 31-year-old and 10-year NBA veteran said he’s taking a season off to heal from injuries – he tore his left patellar tendon that led to him being waived by the Indiana Pacers in March – while also spending time with his newborn son. He was plagued by injuries most all of last season, appearing in a little more than half the Pacers’ games.
“Oh for sure, I’ll be back in the league,” Stuckey said following Kentwood’s 63-57 loss to Shorecrest on Saturday. “I’m just taking a year off.”
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The plan wasn’t to start helping out his former teammate, Kentwood head coach Blake Solomon, until after his professional playing career.
About a week before the school’s tryouts, the 6-foot-5 NBA combo guard asked if there would be room for him to help out this season.
“It’s been awesome,” Stuckey said. “It makes me want to rejuvenate myself even more and get back in shape. But it’s been great giving my knowledge and helping the kids out through basketball.”
He kept track of Kentwood a year ago when Solomon coached the team to the 4A state title over Union. It came 13 years after Solomon and Stuckey were starting guards on Kentwood’s 2004 team, which beat South Kitsap for the 4A state title.
Stuckey earned the 4A state tournament’s MVP that year, scoring 18 points in the title game, with Solomon scoring 16 while Stuckey’s brother, Ronnie, had 12.
“State champs, baby,” Stuckey said. “We used to always go over to Blake’s house before games and eat all his snacks. He’s a good guy, and was a great shooter.”
“Me and him, we’ve talked for a while since I have been coaching,” Solomon said. “Whatever he says, kids just listen a little better to it. He commands such respect and attention, so it’s great just to have his presence.”
Stuckey earned The Associated Press’ all-state player of the year over Bremerton’s Marvin Williams, who would go on to win an NCAA title with North Carolina before heading to the NBA.
But while Williams was in Chapel Hill, Stuckey went to Cheney to play at Eastern Washington University, though he didn’t play his first year there because he was academically ineligible.
Stuckey followed with a stellar two seasons at EWU, and had his jersey retired there after being selected 15th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2007 NBA draft.
His first NBA season? He was a second-team all-rookie pick and helped the Pistons reach the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.
Stuckey has been a tough scorer since, averaging 12.6 points, 3.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game in his 10 seasons.
He signed a veteran’s minimum salary with the Pacers in 2015, but had a big season, including becoming the Pacers’ first reserve player in franchise history to score 30 or more in back-to-back games,
That led to a three-year, $21 million deal to stay with the Pacers, but the third year was a team option.
“We want to thank Rodney for his commitment to our franchise in his three years with the Pacers,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird after Stuckey was waived. “He was a positive influence not only to our team but also in the community. We wish him nothing but the best in the future.”
There were reports that the Lakers were interested in signing Stuckey this offseason, but he chose to come back to Kent, instead.
“I come back to Kent every summer, we always have open gyms and stuff like that,” Stuckey said. “I told Blake, whenever I get done playing basketball I want to help out. I’m obviously taking this year off, so I thought I’d come and help out. I just want my body to rest.”
He’s not the only NBA player in the state’s coaching ranks, with former All-Star Brandon Roy having taken over at his alma mater, Garfield, this year, after coaching Nathan Hale to the 3A state title last season.
Kentwood graduated its entire starting five from a year ago, but Stuckey said he’s still seeing plenty he likes about this year’s group.
“They’re fighting, man,” Stuckey said. “Definitely scrappy. We’re not the tallest team or most athletic, but one thing we can do is be very scrappy and together. If we do that on both ends of the floor, we can do a lot of good things.”
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