Friday, April 9, 2010

The 2010-2011 Commodores: Under the Radar Again

Bobby has his take on A.J. Ogilvy's departure that's in the works. That will likely be the last bit of major coverage of the Big Aussie that VSL publishes.

With A.J.'s departure, I doubt you will see Vanderbilt ranked in the preseason Top-25 for 2010-2011. That's no big deal, as we will likely be skirting on the edges. The media has always associated our success with A.J., and rightly so. A.J. has been a huge part of our team for 3 years.

But as A.J. has soaked up that attention, the incredible potential and development of the rising juniors has been completely ignored. With the exception of Taylor and Jenkins, who I will come to in a second, our roster does not receive much respect from the national media. People have clearly forgotten that of the nine players who got significant playing time last year, 6 of them were sophomores and freshmen. In a basketball world fascinated by one-and-done players on their way to the NBA, the notion that players can improve from year-to-year in the college game seems to have gotten lost.

What indication have these guys given that they won't get better? Again, this is excluding Jenkins and Taylor, who no doubt will be the focal point of any Vanderbilt coverage. But what about Stevie Thunder, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne, and Big Fez? These guys didn't just ride the pine all season. They each contributed significant minutes, they each showed signs of improvement, and they were all SOPHOMORES. The craziest aspect of our team is that we will have only one senior on next year's squad, Darshawn McClellan.

The #14 recruiting class in the nation for 2008 has unfairly been overshadowed by the will-he-or-won't-he nature of A.J. Ogilvy's game. The story has never been about how those kids will improve from year-to-year, it has been about how A.J.'s numbers seem to go down. And now, with A.J. declaring for the draft, the amount of young talent on this team receives no consideration.

So as much as I would have loved to see A.J. stick around for another year, I can't help but wonder if the time had come for the rising juniors to carry the torch. A.J. was an integral bridge from 2008 to now. In a lot of ways, he ushered in a new era of Vanderbilt basketball. He demonstrated that we can be a more diverse team than those we had seen in the past. But who can be disappointed with the outlook for our future?

Can anyone really be disappointed with a backcourt of Tinsley and Jenkins with a top-100 point guard in Fuller to back them up? A potential lottery pick in Jeffery Taylor spelled by a highly-athletic Goulbourne, and a top-100 freshman wing in Rod Odom? Two aggressive and fearless post players in Stevie Thunder and Fez who have more than a good chance to make big strides for 2011? And what about Andre Walker, who also was merely a sophomore?

It's a very unwise decision to ignore the youth and potential that the program currently possesses. While Kentucky brings in a new crop of freshmen looking to make the jump, we come to the table with battle-tested juniors and sophomores. The team dynamic will change with Ogilvy's departure, but it is difficult to understand how the team will be worse off without him. The only thing Ogilvy leaves is a question mark, but there's plenty of answers to fill it.

This team will revolve offensively around our own version of the big 3: Tinsley, Taylor, and Jenkins. Tinsley struggled shooting this year, but it would be ridiculous to assume that more of the same is coming. The kid shot 41% from three his first year. Further, concerns of his abilities running the point are overblown. He was a point guard all through high school. He was recruited to be a point guard, not a shooting guard. He was pushed into that position out of necessity. The kid has good court vision, can shoot well, and makes good decisions with the ball. He will be just fine running the point. Further, with Kyle Fuller, we have an interesting ability to throw a change of pace at teams, something that a lot of squads simply won't have. With him and an improved Jenkins and Taylor, we will have the most dynamic perimeter grouping in the SEC. Even more so than Florida, whom most pundits love to leap frog us.

Our frontcourt is far from depleted as well. I expect Stevie Thunder, Walker, and Fez to take big strides in 2011, particularly on the glass. I wonder if perhaps the benefit of another offseason won't turn these guys into a formidable post presence, if not on the offensive end, certainly on the defensive end. If Stallings can teach these guys to stay out of foul trouble, we will again have tremendous size in the post, coupled with increased physicality.

And it's not like we don't have more youth coming in. We have three solid recruits, and perhaps a fourth, that will be making their way into the program. They have plenty of time to grow, they won't be shoved into the spotlight immediately. But they can provide a boost in their own ways.

People who don't see the potential for next year aren't paying attention. We circled our calendars for this past year, sure, but last year is only the beginning. The future is very bright for the Commodores, and next year, much like this one, we won't fly under the radar for long.


Anonymous said...

"And it's not like we don't have more youth coming in. We have three solid recruits, and perhaps a fourth, that will be making their way into the program."

Who's the fourth?

And also, any predictions for our starting 5 next year? Is it ChainGang time?

Stanimal said...

James Siakam, who's a recruit from Illinois (6'6" athletic wing) has decided to graduate high school early and has been offered by Vandy. Not entirely sure where that stands, and he's kind of raw, but that's at least one name that's floating around. I wouldn't be surprised if we're checking out kids who may want to transfer as well.

VandyFan said...

I could not agree more with this article. I would even go further to add that not only will the players continue to develop and get better, but I believe the team in a lot of aspects was held back by what you so rightly called "the will he won't he aspect of AJ's game". They depended too heavily upon AJ.. because of his talent, only to be disappointed because of his lack of leadership and his mid game mental check outs.

I believe we have the ability to be a really special team without AJ, with the likes of Stevie T and Big Fez, some hustle and energy from your post players never killed anyone. I hope that the coaching staff is really working hard with Jeff Taylor on developing a jump shot over the summer.. because that will be a huge factor this fall. And I'm really interested to see CKS coaching a team that I would think, would be a more up and down the floor type team this coming year.

VandyGold28 said...

have i been blacklisted or something? posts not hitting. why no words on henderson?

Andrew Smith said...

All possible, no doubt, but there are a huge number of "ifs."

If JT develops a jump shot... If JJ learns to create his own shots when covered... If BT remembers how to shoot... If Walker can develop any consistent offensive game... If Fez develops the coordination to stop turning the ball over every other time he touches it...

There is certainly enough raw talent on the team to develop into something formidable, but these guys really need to develop a lot. All of them currently have huge gaps in their games that other teams learned to exploit by the end of last season.

As of this March, you could fully neutralize JT, BT and AW by not defending them outside and forcing them to hoist a shot (which they would then miss, most of the time).

They also learned you could neutralize JJ by, you know, standing near him. (That said, it's very hard to have the presence of mind to guard a guy EVERY SECOND, which means he'll always score his points, whether or not he learns to create shots.)

Don't get me wrong. Next year's team could develop into something special. It has the God-given athletic talent, which is not something you could say about a lot of Vandy teams past.

But this team needs to get a LOT better before anyone should consider it for Top 25. Hell, this team was not anywhere near being one of the nation's Top 25 in the closing weeks of the past season and it has lost the two people who were easily its best players.

Worse, CKS, his staff and Vandy's trainers have never demonstrated much ability to help guys really elevate their games from year to year. AJ actually regressed, and before anyone starts talking about Dolla, let me say this: The only big improvement in his game was the addition of the jump shot. He was no better at passing, rebounding or defending in year four than year two.

Anonymous said...

I think next year's team will be a pleasant surprise and maybe even win the SEC. Our bigs need to learn to shoot ft's...actually Stevie Ray Chaingang is a 60% ft shoot so he is already within hope there. Fes needs to REALLY work on that.

Andre Walker could be a big contributor as could Goulbourne if their roles are a bit more clearly defined.

Stanimal said...

I would disagree with you about players improving from year to year Andrew. Aside from A.J., most of the guys that have come through made huge strides in the final few years. Shan Foster and Derrick Byars are the obvious examples. And it's hard to say that Dolla finding a jump shot is not an improvement since that is the one trait that Taylor needs to develop. If you improve your ability to score, I consider that progress.

I agree that there are a lot of questions, and that we may not deserve a Top-25 ranking right out of the gate. My point was simply that the talent is there, the tools are there, and a lot can change from one off-season to the next. In my opinion, the question marks that we have are not horrible ones.

Anonymous said...

I don't think losing AJ is terrible. I felt like with AJ we slowed down a little and ran a lot of half court. I feel like if we instead went small, we could get out and run a little more next year.

Anonymous said...

I don't think losing Ogilvy will be too bad and it may end up being addition by subtraction. At times when we really needed him to make a play he just disappeared.

Stanimal said...

I think we'll feel the loss at some point next season, probably early on. The question is whether or not we'll have some people rise to the occasion. Right now, you have to consider that to be a huge question mark.