After playing in just 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs at the conclusion of the 2007-2008 season, Damon Stoudamire was aware of the obvious. He knew his playing career was finished, and the star guard was at a crossroads.

Like many NBA and WNBA players who hit the end of their playing careers, he had a conundrum: What do I do with all this time?

Stoudamire had felt it coming for several seasons, long after he won the 1996 Rookie of the Year Award. It happens to professional athletes in other sports, too. Since grade school, their days have been regimented by their sports schedule. There are workouts in the morning, practices in the daytime, weight training in the afternoons and games at night.

Suddenly, all that structure was gone, and Stoudamire needed something; he just did not know what.

“Athletes become creatures of habit. I was no different, but by my eighth year, I started to think about the end more than the beginning. I went back to Arizona and got my degree, and in my 10th year, I tore my patella tendon. I was 32, I had just signed a four-year deal, but it killed my momentum. I never really recovered from that injury. I still loved basketball, but you get older, and I had to admit some things to myself.

“So for me, I started to put my ego to the side. I never even turned in my retirement papers, but I knew I just couldn’t play anymore. I figured that out, and it was therapeutic. But still, athletes can get depressed. It is not enough for me to wake up and work out. Then it’s 10 a.m., and you still have a lot of time to burn.”

Stoudamire was living in Houston at that time and went to see John Lucas, who had worked with countless NBA players during and after their playing careers were over. Lucas had the NBA veteran work with youngsters at a middle school camp and then had a suggestion: “‘Go over to Rice University and volunteer with coach Ben Braun as an assistant coach.’”

“I did it, and I stayed busy. It made me feel alive again. I went from watching practices and attending coaching meetings to going on road trips. That’s how it all got started.”

Word got around on Stoudamire’s new path, prompting Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins to summon the former star guard to Memphis to work as a player development coach for Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry, among others.

Fast forward 15 years, and Stoudamire is now the new head coach at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, his second Division I head coaching job after being at the helm of Pacific University from 2016 to 2021.

“After playing for the Spurs, I didn’t feel it anymore. I had always said I wasn’t built to be a 12th man. I didn’t have a plan, didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Stoudamire told Legends of Basketball Magazine in September as he prepared for the upcoming NCAA season.

He spent some time as a studio analyst at NBA-TV in Atlanta before returning to Houston and meeting with Lucas.

“He put confidence back in me. That’s what he does. He told me: ‘Don’t run from it. Tell your story where it is. Just own it and move on. After that, what can people say?’”

“I owe him a lot. He taught me to be myself again,” Stoudamire said of Lucas. “I built myself back up.”

Photo credit Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athletics.


This summer at Georgia Tech, a typical day begins at 5 a.m. with breakfast, a workout and reading. He then heads to his athletic department office, where he always keeps the door open in case someone needs to step inside and have a heart-to-heart conversation.

“We have workouts every morning in the 8:30-11-30 a.m. window because I designed a schedule to get guys to know how regimented pros are. The players have classes from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and that’s when I have coaches meetings, do media interviews and check with my secretary regarding what is on my plate. I keep in contact with a bunch of people recruiting for ’24 and ’25, and I sometimes go out recruiting, but again, I always keep my door open because I want to be accessible. I know how I am wired. And then I start fading at about 9:30 p.m.”

Stoudamire has a message for current and recently retired players: “No matter how much money you make, there will always be a need for more [to do]. Only one to two percent of players have a level of fame that will allow them to be  truly retired, and the challenge for everyone else is to invent a new life, embrace it.”

He spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before taking the job with Georgia Tech, which has fallen on hard times since making the national championship game 20 seasons ago.

“You have to find a way to stay relevant,” he said. “You’ve got to stay busy and keep making money, or at some point, it’ll all go away. You can’t just retire. Not everyone is Magic Johnson. You cannot rest on your laurels. You have to find something to stay relevant.”

At Georgia Tech, he has brought in former Portland teammate Bonzi Wells as an assistant after Wells coached at LeMoyne-Owen, an HBCU in Memphis that competes in the NAIA. The Yellow Jackets, who went 15-18 and 12-20 the past two seasons, will begin their NCAA season on Nov. 6 against Georgia Southern, and a full ACC schedule will follow as Stoudamire tries to turn the program around.

He hopes to be included in a future event sponsored by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, which is sponsoring two NCAA events this season to highlight programs involved with NBA Legends. The first is Dec. 2 in Las Vegas (USC vs. Gonzaga and Washington vs. Colorado State), and there is the Legends of Basketball Showcase triple-header on Dec. 30 in Cleveland (Ohio State vs. West Virginia; Akron vs. St. Bonaventure; Ohio vs. Davidson).

“We need to get the Retired Players to put on one of those next season that involves only retired NBA players who are coaching NCAA teams. We can get Jerry Stackhouse and Vanderbilt, Juwan Howard and Michigan, Penny Hardaway at Memphis and Tony Bennett at Virginia. There are a bunch of us.”

Not a bad idea, Damon. Sort of like the idea John Lucas gave you when he told you to head over to Rice University and be a volunteer. That was a life-altering moment, and every single NBA player who will one day retire will find himself in similar circumstances.

Hopefully, Damon Stoudamire will be an inspiration.