Kevin Stallings winced.
The middle finger of Kevin Bright was not in the right place. Fouled on a layup attempt against Xavier last week, Bright arose from the floor with the top part of his finger bent sideways, almost forming a T.
Stallings began to look for a sub. It wasn’t necessary.
The freshman shook off the pain and continued, which both impressed and surprised his veteran coach.
“He walks over; the [athletic] trainer takes it and pops it back in place," Stallings said in awe before practice on Thursday. "He puts tape on it. He went out and shot his free throws and he never missed a play. His toughness is unbelievable.
"He has surpassed my expectations in unbelievable ways already. Easy guy to coach.”
The 6-foot-5 wing from Germany has indeed been a — literally — bright spot in the early going for the Commodores (3-4), who host Alabama A&M on Saturday (7 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium).
His 11 points and 10 rebounds helped Vanderbilt edge Xavier in overtime and was his second straight double-double, earning him SEC Freshman of the Week honors. He is the first Vanderbilt freshman to post consecutive double-doubles since A.J. Ogilvy in 2007.
His rebounding has helped offset an inconsistent Vanderbilt post presence. He leads the team with 7.6 rebounds a game. Forty-five of his 53 boards have come on the defensive end, where Bright relishes the opportunity to scoop in from the outside and prevent second-chance opportunities.
“I take a lot of pride in it, especially in defense,” Bright said. “I don’t want guys to score easy on me or on my team. It is something that takes a lot of energy. But at the end, you can help your team really a lot with rebounding.”
Bright’s not just a junkyard dog, though.
Like most European players, he knows how to shoot — when he wants to. Hesitant at first, the 20-year-old has been more assertive lately as he has continued to adjust to what he calls a much quicker game.
He averages 7.4 points — fourth-most on the team — and leads the Commodores with a 55 percent (11-for-20) clip from 3-point range.
“I was a pass-first guy. I didn’t look for my opportunities,” Bright said. “I realized the team also needs points from my side so I’m trying to get more involved in the offensive game. [Stallings] wants me to shoot.”
The truth is Bright has impressed Stallings since assistant coach Brad Frederick recruited him from the Urspring Basketball Academy in Uln, Germany. He joins sophomore forward James Siakam (Cameroon) to provide international talent to the Commodores' roster. Since 1996-97, they have had at least one player from a foreign country on the roster.
When Bright made his college debut in last month's season opener, he was the first true freshman to start his first game since Jeffery Taylor in 2008.
Taylor, who was raised in Sweden but played high school basketball in New Mexico, also was a versatile wing. Talented and immensely athletic, he finished second all-time in scoring in school history and is a rookie for the Charlotte Bobcats.
While Stallings cautions the two are different players, he already sees several areas where Bright has a leg up on Taylor at this early point in his college career.
“Kevin is an incredibly focused defender for a kid that is a freshman,” Stallings said. “Jeff was a good defender also. Kevin is better at the same age defensively than Jeff was even though he probably doesn’t have Jeff’s feet and Jeff’s athleticism. Kevin is obviously not the runner, jumper [that Taylor is]. Better shooter than Jeff was at the same age. Kevin really has good vision, which Jeff did not possess at that time. Kevin is one of our best passers.
“He is real valuable, really valuable — like crazy valuable.”
And, so far, undeniably tough.