Before Vanderbilt headed to the court for the first men’s basketball practice last Friday, coach Kevin Stallings informed the Commodores of a new team rule.
Injuries won’t be tolerated.
“So if you see somebody that’s been suspended for a violation of team rules, they probably got injured and I got mad about it,” Stallings joked. “But, seriously, we can’t get sick, we can’t get hurt. We don’t have the numbers to support it and our guys know it.”
Already, with the season opener against Nicholls State on Nov. 10 less than four weeks away, one key contributor appears to be sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Josh Henderson, a 6-foot-11 center, sustained a stress fracture in his left foot last November. Over the next four months, he underwent two surgeries but the injury has worsened. Last week Stallings said Henderson, who averaged less than three points and three rebounds in eight games last year as a redshirt freshman, is expected to be out for “quite a while.”
“The degree of seriousness with which his foot has been injured has reached the point to where the next injury in that foot could be a career-ending one,” Stallings said. “We just can’t take any chances, which further contributes to our lack of numbers and lack of size. But we’re just going to follow what the doctors say and bring him back as slowly as he needs to be brought back.”
Shelby Moats will fill Henderson’s spot in the starting lineup. Other than 6-foot-9 junior Rod Odom, who, in the past, has preferred 3-pointers over posting up, Moats is the next tallest option. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound sophomore, averaged 4.1 minutes in 16 games last year, primarily coming off the bench late in games no longer in the balance. Vanderbilt has just four players 6-7 or taller, with Henderson as the only true center.
“We may look somewhat Smurf-like at times,” Stallings said. “But that’s OK. We did in ’07 and Dan Cage was a 6-foot-4 inch power forward guarding some of the best players in the country, guys that are still making a great, big living playing basketball. We ended up being very, very effective with it.”
Including Henderson, the Commodores have just 11 players on scholarship and two walk-ons, including Ensworth grad Nathan Watkins. Eric McClellan, a talented shooting guard who averaged 8.5 points last year for Tulsa, must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The Commodores don’t return any starters from last year’s team that went 25-11, won the SEC Tournament championship and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In fact, they are without a senior and the current lineup made just three combined starts last year. Plenty of points will be there for the taking as 88.1 percent of last year’s scoring is gone.
“I had somebody ask me the other day how I was sleeping and I told them I was sleeping like a baby. I was waking up every two hours and crying,” Stallings said with a smile. “I have no idea what we have. We’re inexperienced. I think we can shoot a little bit. We’re going to play hard. I think they’re going to scrap and fight… They’ve really been incredible with how hard they’ve worked and how eager they are to learn.
“I think our fans will really enjoy this basketball team because they’re going to play very, very hard. They’ve already demonstrated that to us. Obviously, you never know how many wins that correlates to."