In something of a dichotomy, an influx of talent has created a state of confusion this summer for the Vanderbilt basketball program.
Perhaps the most decorated and highly regarded recruiting class in school history has arrived on campus, placing the future of the program on solid ground.
But with six new players to sprinkle onto the roster, Commodores coach Kevin Stallings won’t know what to expect when he begins his 10th season in Nashville this fall.
“This is probably as little an idea about a team as I’ve had going into a season in terms of the little nuances you might think about as a coach,” he said Wednesday during the annual Southeastern Conference basketball coaches’ media teleconference. “That’s part of the exciting part of being a college basketball coach – new faces and new teams.”
Enthusiasm is running high at Vanderbilt after the arrival of four recruits who ranked among Rivals.com’s top 100 prep seniors last season: guard Brad Tinsley, swingman Jeff Taylor and forwards Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang.
In addition, center Festus Ezeli and guard Charles Hinkle will be eligible after redshirting last year. The 6-foot-11 Ezeli, a native of Nigeria, was voted the team’s most improved player at the end of the 2007-08 season.
“There’s a tremendous amount of momentum that we feel in our program, and I think the guys we recruited feel that,” Stallings said. “That’s what makes things exciting around here right now.”
The Commodores are coming off a 26-8 season in which they received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament before being upset by Siena in the first round.
Gone from that team are guards Shan Foster and Alex Gordon, forward Ross Neltner and reserve center Alan Metcalfe. Foster, picked No. 51 overall by the Dallas Mavericks in last month’s NBA Draft, departed Vanderbilt as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
With only center A.J. Ogily and guard Jermaine Beal returning to the starting lineup, the Commodores figure to rely heavily on their incoming freshmen next season.
“For the most part, they’ve come in and tried to work hard and play hard,” Stallings said. “As best I can tell, they’ve kept their mouth shut and tried to do what the older guys have tried to lead them to do, which is really the way it ought to be. We’re very excited about our group of freshmen.”
More top players could be heading to Nashville in future seasons. Stallings noted that Vanderbilt’s recent recruiting success has opened previously closed doors.
One such player VU hopes to sign is 6-foot-9 forward Ryan Kelly of the Ravencroft School in Raleigh, N.C. Ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 17 player for the class of 2009, Kelly is considering Vanderbilt as well as Georgetown, North Carolina, Stanford and several other schools.
Casey Prather, a 6-foot-5 small forward from North Side High in Jackson, Tenn., recently listed Vanderbilt as his top school. He’s ranked as the nation’s No. 33 player in the class of 2010.
“The level of player we’re able to get in front of right now is as good as it’s ever been, and that’s obviously an exciting thing,” Stallings said. “From a consistency standpoint, we feel like we’re getting entertained and getting interest from as high a level of players since we’ve been here.”