The Vanderbilt Commodores, a team perhaps best known for its strangely configured home court, is now achieving recognition for its play on the hoops court.
Missouri fans should recognize Vanderbilt as the school from which standout DeMarre Carroll transferred in order to play for his uncle, Missouri Tigers coach Mike Anderson. A transfer which stung the Commodores like Travis Ford's 1990 transfer from Missouri to Kentucky.
Fans of 80s hair, may also recognize Vanderbilt as the institution where during a 1989 Vandy-Florida game, one Commodore fan launched a tennis ball at University of Florida center, Dwayne Schintzius and his hair, nick-named The Lobster, a few days following Schintzius' alleged assault with a tennis racket outside a Gainesville night club.
Preseason pundits didn't see Vanderbilt improving on last year's 24-9 (12-4 SEC) record. But, this year's Commodores club brings the enthusiasm and athleticism which has become a trademark of Kevin Stallings (220-138, 12 years) coached teams. With a 7-1 record this season and a win over North Carolina, last year's #4 NCAA Tourney seed is looking like a team that has the potential to return to the Big Dance.
Many thought 6'7" small forward Jeffery Taylor (12.1 ppg), the 15th ranked NBA prospect on Chad Ford's ESPN NBA Draft Board, would lead the team. But shooting guard John Jenkins (18.6 ppg, 91% FT, 38% 3P%) is living up to his billing as the best high school prospect ever to sign with the Commodores.
The departure of last season's starting center, A.J. Ogilivy, was thought to leave a major void in the Commodores starting five, but the new Nigerian Nightmare, Festus Ezeli (13.3 ppg, 7.8 rbg, 2.0 bpg, 66.7% fg%), has emerged as a major inside presence. In Saturday's win over cross-town rival, Belmont Bruins College, Festus doubled-up with 24 points and 10 rebounds. It now appears he has the potential to leave the Commodores as the most talented big man since Will Perdue ('88).
Oregon-native Guard Brad Tinlsey (9.4ppg, 5.3apg) and Andre Walker (3.7apg), who missed Saturday's game due to illness, round out the "typical" starting five for the Commodores. Walker is versatile enough to serve as a point-forward against teams who like to play the full court, and brought the ball up against UNC without a turnover.
There is depth on the bench, especially at the forward position, where Lance Goulbourne (7.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and impact freshman Rod Odom (5.8 ppg, 45% 3P%) typically average 15-20 minutes a game. Guard Kyle Fuller (1.8 apg) is a capable back-up able to offer Tinsley and Jenkins the occasional breather.
This years Commodores club brings what is becoming unique in big-time college basketball, an upperclassmen lead team with big game experience. In past seasons, the Commodores have struggled away from the peculiar confines of its home court, Memorial Gym, but in recent years the talent level has reached the point where they are formidable both at home and on the road.
Written by Chris “Ammo” Amistadi, special to Big 12 Hoops... and Vanderbilt alumnus