The outbursts have been replaced by outpourings of knowledge; the volume of his voice listened to intently as opposed to being blocked out in past years.
With a new role in the next stage of his career, Rasheed Wallace has transformed from agitator to mentor, dominating foe to willing coach.
“Playing against him, he was always going to trash talk a little bit,” said Charlie Villanueva. “I used to always try not to feed into it, but it was hard not to. He was just constantly talking. Now as a coach, you’ve got to respect him. His resume speaks for itself.”
Last April Wallace finished his NBA career after 16 years in the league, compiling a total average of 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. During this time he won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and earned four All-Star selections. In September he joined the staff of the Pistons, where he had spent more than five seasons, as a player development coach. Just months later Wallace, 39, was promoted to an assistant coach role by interim head coach John Loyer following the firing of former head coach Mo Cheeks.
Some of the Pistons, like Villanueva, recall their own hard fought battles with Wallace on the court. Others entered the league toward the end of his tenure when injuries restricted him to the bench. Regardless of their personal encounters, players of all levels of experiences are benefiting from Wallace being on their sidelines this season.
“He’s won before so you respect that and you listen to him and what he has to say,” said Jonas Jerebko. “He’s been in a winning situation before. He was just like any other coach who’s come in, but he’s been in our shoes and he’s been really successful. That’s something we all want to get to, so we’ve just got to listen to him.”
This group of players would like to return the team to the winning ways it achieved during Wallace’s time on the court. He won a title his first season with the Pistons and reached the playoffs every year on the squad, including three conference finals and a trip to the NBA Finals.
Wallace left the Pistons as a free agent following the 2008-09 season. The team has not advanced to the postseason since then, finishing below .400 the past four years. This season they are 25-39 in an Eastern Conference in which the final playoff spots are still within reach for many struggling teams.
It is not a race to the postseason, though. One of Wallace’s focal points has been developing the Pistons young bigs. Andre Drummond, 20, and Greg Munroe, 23, are benefiting from time spent with him.
Drummond is having a breakout sophomore season as a consistent double-double threat (45, to be exact). His numbers have jumped to 13.2 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Monroe is averaging 14.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
“I like hearing his voice on the sidelines,” said Drummond. “Whenever you do something wrong or whenever you do something right he lets it be known that he sees it. It’s a motivation. Hearing him on the sideline constantly talking, it gets me going.”
The Pistons rank first in the league in offensive rebounds (14.5 per game) and is tied with the Indiana Pacers for seventh in boards per game (45.1).
“He’s been great, very energetic,” said Monroe. “The passion for the game is there and he’s shown that throughout his whole career. He still has the passion and obviously and the knowledge and experience is there, especially his championship experience. He’s been great, he’s been showing as much knowledge about the game as much as possible to us, and I know it’s been a great help for me.”
With his first season in a coaching role nearly completed, Wallace has made a strong impression in a short period of time. The players have been feeding off his energy and have developed an appreciation for his enthusiasm … and the way in which he expresses it.
“He’s very vocal. Very vocal,” said Villanueva. “He’s just going to tell you what it is and he’s going to do it ‘Sheed Form’ – his way. He’s a very good guy, means well, very passionate for the game.”
Adds Monroe, “One thing about him that people probably misunderstand is whenever he speaks he has a purpose. He never speaks just for the sake of it. He’s never loud just for the sake of being loud. He doesn’t really have outbursts. He speaks what he thinks and most of the times, he’s speaking from experience.”
And while he may have left his infamous “Ball don’t lie!” eruptions in his playing days, he’s never at a lack of words as a coach.
“If somebody airballs he screams, ‘Close the door!’” said Josh Harrellson. “He’s always cracking jokes and being a funny guy.”