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Damon Stoudamire is ready for the challenge of being the Pacific Tigers' head coach

The Arizona alum finally has the keys to his own program, and he's ready to get to work

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Damon Stoudamire couldn't help but laugh as he made his way to the podium.

"It’s funny," he said with a smile. "Because I’m standing up here and I’ve played in front of a lot of big crowds in my life and I’ve played against some great players and I’m going to be honest with you I’ve never been so nervous about being in front of 50 people in my life."

Stoudamire has had a noteworthy basketball career. He had a decorated college career at Arizona, making the Pac-10 All-First Team three times and being named as the conference's Player of the Year in 1995. He then played in the NBA for over a decade, and recently has been an assistant coach at Memphis and Arizona -- two high-level college basketball programs -- while dominating the recruiting trail in the process.

But none of that compared to this moment.

Stoudamire had just earned his first head coaching job, agreeing to take the reins of the Pacific Tigers' basketball program.

"I think I've come a long way," he said. "I'm excited for this opportunity."

It was only a matter of time before Stoudamire got the keys to his own program. Given his playing and coaching experience along with his recruiting prowess and player-friendly personality, Stoudamire has all the characteristics that a program would want in a head coach. But because of his recent decision to make the move from Arizona to Memphis to be closer to his family, Stoudamire's decision to take over a program out west caught many by surprise, but he felt Pacific offered an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

"I’ve always been the type of person that’s had to overcome a whole lot of things," he said. "And when I looked at Pacific -- I googled Pacific, and I went online and looked at a lot of things -- and what I said to myself was ‘this is an opportunity for us to grow together’ and that’s a heck of an opportunity for me."

Stoudamire was once linked to the Oregon State job when it was vacant, and was even deemed as the favorite to land it, but, as he alluded to, there is naturally less pressure at Pacific than at a Pac-12 school, allowing him to grow and develop as a coach without the constant worry of being on the 'hot seat.'

Meanwhile from Pacific's perspective, it has no doubt that Stoudamire is a home run hire.

"Damon is a teacher, a coach, a role model, and an advocate for student-athletes," Pacific athletic director Ted Leland said.

New Orleans Pelicans' general manager and Pacific alum, Dell Demps, strongly endorsed Stoudamire for the job.

"We started thinking about [Stoudamire] because Dell Demps called me up and said ‘I’ve been in pro basketball, I love the Tigers, I’m a Tiger for life and I got the perfect guy for you’," Leland said. "If you know Dell, you know the respect he has on this campus and in the world of basketball that we certainly listened to him."

And it wasn't just Stoudamire's basketball pedigree and recruiting wizardry that sparked Demps' interest -- one moment eight years ago stuck in Demps' mind.

"When I played for the San Antonio Spurs, and Dell was the assistant general manager at the time, he had a son, Tre," Stoudamire recalled. "And little did I know… I was just out there working out and I started helping Tre a little bit, and I guess Dell must have seen that and told [Pacific] about that story. He said ‘that guy has passion for basketball, that guy has passion for kids’."

"He was doing this daily and I saw this daily," Demps told the Stockton Record. "He worked out with the pro guys and afterward he helped the high school guys out on his own... I thought, this guy’s going to be a coach."

Stoudamire is certainly thankful for Demps' recommendation.

"That’s why for me you never know who’s looking at you," Stoudamire said. "You never know how you inspire people, and little did I know on that given day that I had touched Dell Demps’ life because I was helping his son. And for him to come back and say that I was the guy that needed to lead Pacific into the future, that’s a blessing for me and I’m honored to call him my friend."

Stoudamire has been coaching -- both officially and unofficially -- for years now, but he doesn't have a single iota of head coaching experience. But, he knows exactly what type of program he wants to create and what type of head coach he'll be.

"What I want to do is, number one, to come in here and create a culture," he said. "I want to create a culture of hard work. I want to create a culture of accountability, and I want self-disciplined men."

"As you get to know who [I am], I just kind of tell it like it is," he added. "I’m sometimes honest to a fault but at the same time, I’m going to bring good energy. I’m going to do the right thing. I want my guys to play the right way. I want my guys to be outstanding citizens in the community."

Stoudamire was quick to thank former Arizona head coach Lute Olson for inspiring him to become the person that he is today and helping him get to where he is, and plans to take a page out of his former coach's playbook.

"I want to play fast and under control," Stoudamire told the Stockton Record. "I want ball movement and player movement. I’m going to play a lot of pick-and-roll basketball. That’s what I like -- I was a pick-and-roll ball player myself."

It may take awhile before Stoudimire's team is a winning one, however. The Tigers had a 8-20 record in the 2015-16 season, finishing only above San Diego in the West Coast Conference, and the team's leading scorer is set to graduate. Plus the program is currently on probation due to academic misconduct. It's not an ideal situation to build a successful program, to say the least, but Stoudamire doesn't believe a major overhaul is needed.

"I look at the roster and you got enough to win right now," he said to the Stockton Record. "Is it going to take a little work? Yeah. Is it going to take a little reconfiguring? Yeah. Is it going to take getting in the gym and getting better? Yeah. But it’s not like the cupboard is bare. The cupboard is not bare."

As he mentioned, it will require hard work and some perseverance on the recruiting trail for him to get his program where he envisions it. And that's something that he's well-prepared to do.

"I’ve never been given anything," he said. "I’ve always had to roll my sleeves up, and as I look at this community, it looked like everybody had to do the same. We have to roll up our sleeves, we have to take pride in where we’re at."

"I’m the man for this challenge and [I'm ready] to move forward with it."

*all quotes transcribed from PacificTigers.com, unless specified otherwise. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA