Tomorrow at 4:00 marks the first regular season game since 2009 that we will be seeing entirely new faces in the starting lineup for the Commodores. While some of the players served in supporting roles last season, there is much uncertainty surrounding the Vanderbilt basketball program for the coming year. Certainly, the two exhibition showdowns have been tantalizing, but time will tell how our youth will rise to the occasion in what should be a talent-packed SEC.
Vanderbilt matches up against Nicholls State tomorrow, and it will certainly be interesting to see how the guys who were waiting in the wings behind NBA players Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins, and Festus Ezeli will rise in their roles. Without question, the cupboard is not bare, though growing pains are inevitable for a squad that lost its top six rotation players and the vast majority of its scoring. The team will rely heavily on former rotation cogs Kedren Johnson and Rod Odom. Kedren especially, and to a lesser extent Rod, have flashed ability, and Vanderbilt will need both to rise up if the Commodores hope to position themselves for future success.
The off-season and exhibitions have produced some good news and some bad news. On the good side, Josh Henderson is back sooner than expected from injury, adding badly needed post depth to a team depleted by the loss of Lance Goulbourne, Festus Ezeli, and Steve Tchiengang. In addition, James "Bamba" Siakam has shown in both exhibition matchups the ability to be a "lunch pail" type of player around the glass, something this squad will sorely need given it's lack of size. Finally, the Commodores pulled in a talented, albeit raw, trio of Small Forwards in Kevin Bright, Sheldon Jeter, and A.J. Astroth. All have ability, but all will need time and patience to develop within Kevin Stallings scheme.
On the bad side, the Commodores are playing an indeterminate amount of time without highly-rated shooting guard Dai-Jon Parker, who was expected to occupy the starting role next to Kedren in the backcourt. While the hard work, determination, and play of Kyle Fuller is a huge part of this squads success, Parker is the type of lock-down defender this squad needs, and arguably its best athlete. I'll take Fuller and Johnson as the starting backcourt initially, but a rotation of all three is the strength of this squad.
Finally, a note about the state of the program. I recently had a solid debate with folks over on the Vandy Sports message boards, as well as took some thoughts to Twitter about us missing out on three-star forward Schuyler Rimmer. I have been frustrated by how our recent success has not translated into recruiting as of late. This is not a knock on our present players, all of whom I am quite pleased with. This is simply an observation towards the future. Damien Jones was an enormous get for this program because he fills a huge need for us in the future. Still, fans have every right to be somewhat disenchanted by the fact that we won only one tournament game with three NBA players over three years, and further that we missed out on next-level type targets such as Alex Poythress and Austin Nichols. It is not a stretch in the least to wonder if this program has plateaued, and whether fans should get used to this being as good as it gets or whether we can really bump into the top 15-25 range perennially. How this team fares, both this year and next, will go a long way to making that determination. But that conversation is somewhat premature, as the present squad needs every opportunity to show what they have got. After all, CKS has always had a knack for suprising us.
It's basketball season ladies and gents, and I am always pumped for basketball season. Go Dores!