Fewer than three weeks removed from its first practice, the Vanderbilt's men's basketball team already feels the aches and pains of banging bodies with teammates.
And just in time for the first exhibition game.
As they host Alabama-Huntsville (7 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Gymnasium,) the Commodores have several minor injuries that have caused players to miss practice time. Among the wounded are starters Festus Ezeli (knee), Jeffery Taylor (sprained ankle) and Brad Tinsley (foot) and reserves Steve Tchiengang (hip flexor), Kyle Fuller (turf toe) and Darshawn McClellan (groin).
Coach Kevin Stallings said he hopes all of them will play against Alabama-Huntsville.
“It has been a little unsettling to the flow of what we have been trying to get done," Stallings said. "The last week we have made some good progress and so hopefully that shows up in the game (Wednesday) night. That happens this time of year because they are not used to going this hard and this intensely for this period of time.
"It tends to happen everywhere, not just here. But, knock on wood, so far it has been minor injuries. They are all are on the upswing right now, so we are probably as healthy as we have been for the last week or so.”
The Commodores are coming off a 24-9 season (12-4 in the Southeastern Conference) in which they bowed out of the NCAA Tournament with a first-round loss to Murray State.
Three starters – Taylor, Tinsley and forward Andre Walker – return and the 6-foot-11 Ezeli and shooting guard John Jenkins step into starting roles after coming off the bench last year.
Taylor, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior, leads the way. The guard/forward averaged 13.3 points a game last season and was named to the All-SEC’s preseason first team by media and coaches. He is a key piece in a Vanderbilt offense that lost 27 points a game with the departure of Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy.
“I know we aren’t going to be a 100 percent, things aren’t going to look completely right for our first exhibition game,” Taylor said. “But we are where we need to be when it comes to effort and wanting to play well. The other things will come with more practice and more game experience.”
Vanderbilt is not short on experience with 12 returning lettermen and competition among reserves for playing time at almost every position.
Tinsley’s backup at point guard is Fuller, a freshman from Moreno Valley, Calif., who averaged 27.6 points and eight assists, six rebounds and four steals as a senior. The forward position seems to have the most depth with juniors Lance Goulbourne and Tchiengang and seniors Joe Duffy and McClellan.
“I think our experience will propel us pretty far just in terms of guys being here, guys knowing what it takes to win in the SEC, what it takes to win in the preseason and just knowing what to expect,” Tinsley said. “Anytime you got a guy behind you pushing you day in, day out, it makes not only you better, not only him better but it also makes the team better. Our young guys have done very well in just competing day in and day out and making the team better.”
Vanderbilt will play two exhibition games – the Commodores host Southern Indiana next Monday – before opening the regular season at home against Presbyterian on Nov. 12.