As it would to Williamson, who has been trying, without success, to live down his relatively poor performance (15 points and seven rebounds, compared with 34 and 13 for Roe) against UMass in November. "It's so sad," says Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson of the common assumption that Williamson has had a subpar year. "Corliss is a heckuva lot better player this year. Every night there are four or five players banging on him. The only way to stop him is to hit him."
Can Wallace win? Or will he and Stackhouse split the vote in their region? The answers are probably not and probably. For all the questions that have been raised about his attitude, the 6'10" Wallace is a gifted and gritty player who, like Smith, can shoot inside and outside, dominate on defense with his shot-blocking and run the floor like a guard. Dean Smith would rather sit in a dunking booth at a Duke fund-raising carnival than compare his players to one another, but one Carolina insider swears that the coach's MVP would be Wallace not Stackhouse. But for all his splendor, Wallace is not a better player than Stackhouse. And in tight situations, when emotions have to be reined in, Wallace can still be a liability. Stackhouse, by contrast, is an anchor.
What are some other reasons why we like Stackhouse? Let us count the ways:
•During an up-and-down freshman season when he, Wallace and point guard Jeff McInnis sat a little and stewed a lot on a senior-dominated team, Stackhouse kept his poise. And when Dean Smith suddenly tapped him on the shoulder before the ACC tournament and said, "Take over, kid," all Stackhouse did was play through the obvious resentment he sensed from the upperclassmen, lead the Tar Heels to the championship and become the third North Carolina freshman (Phil Ford and Sam Perkins were the others) to win the ACC tournament's MVP award. So, what did he think about backing up players to whom he felt superior? "It was tough," he admits. "But it's almost like as a freshman here you have to be torn down to be built back up. I'd go through it all again."
No, what does he really think about playing second fiddle through most of the year? Stackhouse smiles. "I hated it, because in actuality we kicked their butts every day in practice," he says.
•He's a crowd pleaser but doesn't play to the crowd. A Stackhouse moment: Feb. 2, 1995, North Carolina against its bitter archrival Duke (following story). Stackhouse blows by Blue Devil Cherokee Parks, drives under the basket, emerges on the other side and throws down a vicious one-handed dunk as he gets fouled by another Duke giant, Erik Meek. Not to belabor this, but it was a play reminiscent of you know who.
After that dunk Stackhouse did a very untypical Stackhouse thing—he did a little shimmy before walking to the foul line and completing the three-point play. It was unusual because Stackhouse never talks trash, never shows anyone up. During an AAU game a few summers ago, he drew a technical foul for arguing with a referee. "I saw the look on my mom's face, the embarrassment it caused her," says Stackhouse. "And I never wanted to do that again." So far, he hasn't.
And does he discuss the T-word with his demonstrative pal Wallace?
"Look, I love what Rasheed does on the court," says Stackhouse. "That's his style, that's what gets him going." He smiles again. "The only time I don't love it is the next day at practice when we're doing 10 crosses." A "cross" is a length-of-the-court sprint, the penalty exacted by Smith on all the Heels when anyone gets a tech.
•He lives for prime time. With the clock running down in overtime of last season's ACC tournament semifinal against Wake Forest, it was Stackhouse's layup that won the game 86-84. On Feb. 19 against Virginia, Stackhouse made two key baskets down the stretch, and the Heels were looking for him in the game's final play when they threw it away and lost 73-71. The thing to remember is that Stackhouse had missed 12 of his 16 shots in that game, yet he was still the go-to guy. Smith's system doesn't play favorites, but check out how often House has the ball with the clock running down or the game on the line. "What makes him so tough is that he senses the moment," says Odom.