Calling the Commodores' 2005-06 basketball season rocky would be a monumental understatement.
Sure, Vanderbilt finished 17-13 and reached the National Invitational Tournament. On the surface, being a Vanderbilt basketball player appeared fun. But out of the public's view, being a Commodore was far more troublesome.
"We lacked some chemistry last year, and that was a problem because it is important for our team's success," Vanderbilt senior Derrick Byars said. "We are hanging out more as a team and our chemistry this year will translate into success."
Byars said a tighter-knit team, coupled with the return of three starters and seven lettermen, could lead to an NCAA Tournament berth.
Vanderbilt's eighth-year coach Kevin Stallings agreed with his senior leader that last season's off-court circumstances hurt the Commodores on the court.
So this fall, the Commodores spent endless hours bonding. They went to movies. They went bowling. They went out on the weekends.
They did anything that could promote togetherness.
"It got pretty ridiculous last year at times," Stallings said. "It got to the point that it was a huge distraction. But we've learned from it. And we won't let it happen again."
Byars has a lot to do with that notion.
He's the second-leading returning scorer for Vanderbilt, which did score a surprising victory at Kentucky last season. And he can do so many different things.
"Derrick is Mr. Versatility for us," Stallings said. "He does anything that we need him to. I hope that he becomes more assertive on the court, particularly on offense."
Byars and junior Shan Foster should form a prolific scoring tandem. Foster averaged 15.9 points per game last season and was named to the SEC coaches' all-SEC first team.
Those two combined with senior forward Dan Cage and four talented newcomers should give Vanderbilt a realistic shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament.
"Every position on our team can produce this year and we are very balanced," Foster said. "I have to go out and be one of the hardest workers every time I am out there. I have to lead by example and make sure that I play every play like it is my last."
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