His performance left something to be desired.
But Vanderbilt sophomore James Siakam won’t soon forget his first collegiate start on Tuesday against Tennessee.
“It was definitely a big deal,” Siakam said. “I’ve been dreaming about it. I think the opportunity is still there and I still have time to hopefully keep that spot.”
He’ll have to work his way back up the pecking order in order to start at center again.
After Siakam scored just four points and was exploited by the bigger Jarnell Stokes in a 58-57 loss to the Volunteers, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said to expect more changes to the starting lineup. The Commodores host Alabama (12-7, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) on Saturday (3 p.m., SEC Network).
“We’re going to have accountability to being productive,” Stallings said. “So we’re going to find guys that are productive and try to play them. If I have to change the lineup every game then I’ll just change the lineup every game. I’m tiring a little bit of the inconsistencies and I’m certainly tiring of inconsistencies from guys who have been around here for a while.”
In the midst of a two-game losing streak, Vanderbilt (8-11, 2-5) is looking for a cure to its big man blues.
Josh Henderson provided a rare spark from the post against the Vols. The 6-foot-11 sophomore came off the bench, made six of 10 shots and tied a career-high with 13 points. For the season, the trio of Siakam, Henderson and Shelby Moats have combined for an average of 10.2 points.
“I’ve doubted what everybody that has played the position can give us because they haven’t given us anything until the other night,” Stallings said. “I shouldn’t say anything but haven’t given us much. It is why a guy goes from being third on the depth chart to starting in one game because you’re searching for an answer and trying to come up with a remedy for something that isn’t working.”
Henderson and Moats combined for two points, two rebounds and three fouls as Vanderbilt was outrebounded 40-18 and humiliated by Missouri in an 81-59 loss last weekend. So Stallings decided to start Siakam, who scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds against the Tigers.
Stallings called Siakam’s performance against Tennessee a “disaster.” The 6-foot-7, 210-pounder was overwhelmed from the start by the 6-8, 270-pound Stokes. In the opening four minutes, Stokes scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds, including four offensive boards. He finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Siakam played just 13 minutes and grabbed only two rebounds. But he snagged a big offensive board late. He grabbed a rebound on a missed free throw by teammate Kedren Johnson and scored on a putback to cut the lead to 58-57 with 29 seconds left.
“I was just trying to help out the best I could,” Siakam said. “I was just trying to be physical with Stokes and match his intensity. That was basically the goal. … [The center position] requires a lot of physicality and it is not always easy with my size. But I work my way around it with speed and agility.”
One of the team’s more athletic players, Siakam continues to adjust to playing organized basketball.
He moved from his home in Douala, Cameroon five years ago to pursue his dream of playing collegiate basketball. At Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale, Ill., he averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
After choosing Vanderbilt over Marquette, Illinois, Florida and UCLA, among others, he redshirted in 2010-11 and played a total of 25 minutes last year. He showed great promise in Vanderbilt’s first exhibition game this year. He feasted on NAIA foe St. Xavier for 22 points and 17 rebounds.
Other than an eight-point, eight-rebound effort against Marist, he has struggled to piece it together against tougher Division I competition. He averages 2.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 11.4 minutes.
If Siakam could translate his performances in practice over to games Stallings said starting might not be a rare feat.
“James looks his best when he is on the scout squad and not having to think too much and can just play,” Stallings said. “When he gets into a game and becomes part of a scheme and things like that his mind speeds up and his body slows down and he is not as effective. So I think that it is a matter of James developing mentally. He has the physical capabilities to help our team. The game is more difficult for him mentally.”