'String Music', 'Chancellors' great reads for fans

Brent reviews two relatively new books that should appeal to Commodore fans of all stripes: <i>String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball</i> by Chris Dortch, and <i>Chancellors, Commodores and Coeds: A History of Vanderbilt University</i> by Bill Carey.

What I did on my summer vacation... rented a condo in Crescent Beach, Fla., a mile or so away from the place owned by former Florida coach Steve Spurrier. I got out early every morning to try to spot the Head Redskin, who's notorious for early-morning jogs... but alas, there were no Spurrier-sightings.

I was more successful, however, at getting through two relatively new books, both of which belong on every Commodore fan's bookshelf.

Chris Dortch's String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball (Brassey's, Inc., $24.95, 339 pp.) chronicles the rise of the SEC from a mediocre men's basketball conference in the late 1980's to the powerhouse conference it is today. It's a story that someone needed to tell, and Dortch, also the editor of the annual Blue Ribbon Basketball Forecast, imparts it in a masterful way.

The story inescapably centers upon names like Rick Pitino, Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan and Roy Kramer, all of whom played key roles in the conference's amazing ascent. But each of the 12 SEC schools gets a chapter from Dortch, and if you're like me, you'll skip straight to the chapter on Vanderbilt. It doesn't disappoint.

There you can get the inside scoop from Eddie Fogler on why he jumped ship... relive the VBK era (assuming you'd want to)... learn how Director of Athletics Todd Turner went about searching for a new coach in 1999, and how and why Kevin Stallings accepted. There are quite a few unguarded comments from Stallings, and a recap of the 2001-02 season. String Music is penned with an omniscient impartiality, and from this fan's perspective, it's all right on target.

Memorial Maniacs may find it instructive to review this relevant history as they approach Year Five of the Stallings era. For the true college basketball fanatic, Dortch's book ranks right up there with some of John Feinstein's finest works-- it's the book Feinstein might have written, had he any interest in the SEC. It's a delight for any true hoops fan, and makes for an essential primer on the latter-day era of Commodore hoops.

I was only slightly less enthusiastic after reading Bill Carey's latest work, Chancellors, Commodores and Coeds: A History of Vanderbilt University (ClearBrook Press, $34.95, 432 pp.). Carey, who has authored many articles on the school's history for the Vanderbilt Register, tries to capture Vanderbilt's 130-year history mostly through anecdotes. The volume stands up well next to Paul Conkin's landmark 1985 work, Gone with the Ivy, and makes for much smoother reading.

Vanderbilt's athletic history is only a small part of the school's history, and hard-core Commodore fans may be disappointed that so little of the volume is devoted to sports. My only gripe is that the chapters on Vandy's recent athletic history offer little that a well-informed fan wouldn't already know. Fans looking for a definitive sports history would be advised to look elsewhere.

But that wasn't Carey's objective, and that's not to say you shouldn't purchase this book. For the more sports-oriented readers, the highlights include a chapter on legendary coach Dan McGugin and the early, brutal days of college football... another on the building of Memorial Gym... and a fine chapter on Perry Wallace, the distinguished VU alum who broke the SEC color barrier in basketball.

This sweeping history of Vanderbilt serves as a fascinating thread in the patchwork of Nashville's and a nation's history. Rest assured, readers of Chancellors will learn plenty about the old school on West End that they didn't already know, and will have a high time doing it.

Note of caution: both books, especially Chancellors, are in limited printings and are relatively hard to find at bookstores outside Nashville. Out-of-town fans may need to order them from a Nashville bookstore, the Vanderbilt bookstore, or the publishers.


Saw where Vandy's men's basketball team will help open the brand new Curb Event Center at Belmont University. Kevin Stallings' Commodores play Rick Byrd's Bruins on Friday, Nov. 21, in the first game ever inside the new 5,000-seat multipurpose arena. It will be the first time Vandy has played an away game in Nashville since the Commodores last played at Lipscomb's McQuiddy Gym in 1952 (although Vandy did play at MTSU's nearby Murphy Center in 1972).

Scheduling an away game at Belmont is a dangerous gambit for a team that desperately needs to get 2003-04 off to a good start. Three days later, Vandy hosts Indiana in what will certainly be the biggest marquee non-conference home game since Eddie Fogler's Commodores hosted Bobby Knight's Hoosiers in December, 1990.

Having Indiana and Michigan on the home schedule ought to boost Vandy's season ticket sales, for sure. But Hoosier fans, much like Kentucky fans, are notorious for following their team to the ends of the earth-- so look for them to pack 3F and 3L on Nov. 24.

That same weekend, Bobby Johnson's football team travels to Neyland Stadium for its regular-season finale against Tennessee. It holds the potential to be one of the most memorable weekends in Commodore history... or one of the most forgettable.


Baseball coach Tim Corbin will add another junior college player to the roster this fall... and he's greased lightning on the basepaths. He's 5-9, 165-pound outfielder Antoan Richardson, a native of the Bahamas by way of Palm Bay (Fla.) Junior College. He will be eligible to play next spring, and could conceivably start in center and bat leadoff.

Richardson is tearing up the Sheandoah Valley Baseball League this summer as a member of the Winchester (Va.) Royals. Through 27 games Richardson has a .317 average, a phenomenal .482 on-base percentage, and 21 stolen bases. He was recently named to the league's all-star team.

By the way, who ever said Vanderbilt couldn't / shouldn't go after junior college players? Bobby Johnson will add one this fall-- DB Bill Alford-- and Corbin should add three next spring-- pitcher Ryan Rote of Kishwaukee Community College; outfielder Colton Daines of College of San Mateo, Calif.; and Richardson. A developing trend?


Contact Brent at brent@vandynation.com

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Chancellors, Commodores and Coeds can be ordered from www.clearbrookpress.com, as well as major booksellers in Davidson and Williamson Counties, including Davis Kidd, Borders, and others.

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