Vanderbilt basketball: Hope for the future

After the disappointing loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings talked about how proud he was of his team after a 16-17 season. Stallings should be proud; his team reaching the SEC semifinals, beating Kentucky and winning 16 games was something many observers thought would be impossible earlier in the season.

After the disappointing loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings talked about how proud he was of his team after a 16-17 season. Stallings should be proud; his team reaching the SEC semifinals, beating Kentucky and winning 16 games was something many observers thought would be impossible earlier in the season.

"I'm proud of my team, "said Stallings. "This basketball team might have improved as much as any that I've ever coached in a single season, for that I'm very proud of them and congratulate them."

Stallings was right, at least regarding his Vanderbilt teams. I know Stallings is a good coach but I didn't expect this team to improve so much over the past few months. I remember after the ugly loss at Oregon wondering if the team could at least reach 10 victories this season. No Commodore team since the 1947-48 season had failed to win at least 10 games. It wasn't that I thought the players were horrible, I just knew that after losing all five starters from a year ago including three to the NBA that it was going to be a rough season.

A week after the loss to the Ducks I was even more worried when the team dropped a 50-33 stinker to Marist. However, the one thing that gave me hope was that the ‘Dores seemed to be playing solid defense. After an 0-3 SEC start that included another 33-point offensive performance, this time against Arkansas and a heartbreaking home overtime loss to Ole Miss, I began to wonder if this team would keep fighting. They answered my question in the next game at South Carolina. Vandy came away with a 58-51 win that gave us all some hope. The Commodores then took care of Auburn at Memorial and we knew this team was getting better.

Later we continued to see improvement. The 33-point stinkers ended and Vandy got some revenge on Arkansas at home and then knocked off Texas A&M to put the ‘Dores in the driver's seat to avoid having to play on the first day of the SEC Tourney. After a close loss at Kentucky the Commodores won four of the last five games of the regular season before they stormed through the Razorbacks and Wildcats in the SEC Tourney.

Yes, it's hard to wonder what could have been. At least VU should have had a winning season when you consider the loss to 10-22 Marist and some of the very close losses the team suffered. However, the season is finished, we must look to the future and the future right now is looking good. Vanderbilt has got a super group of players coming back along with some badly needed new talent.

No offense to Josh Henderson and Shelby Moats, both of those players showed enormous improvement during the season and will help the team in the future but the addition of 4-star, top 100 prospect Damian Jones should boost the team. Jones has the athleticism and talent to give the Commodores a more formidable inside threat both on offense and defense. His threat inside should open up more threes on the outside. Plus Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan, who had to sit out this season, will be eligible. Vandy is already a terror for opponents from 3-point range and McClellan was a bomber in high school who hit over 50 percent from beyond the arc.

You put these two newcomers with this maturing team that has learned how to win and you have the makings of a possible special season in 2013-14. The coach is there, the team is there; will you as a fan be there too?

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