Stallings: Last year my most difficult experience

"Last year was by far the most difficult experience professionally that I've ever dealt with," said Kevin Stallings of last year's disappointing 11-18 season. In Part V of a series of reports from SEC Media Day, the Commodore skipper talks about various personnel combinations fans are likely to see this year, as well as the challenges of recruiting to Vanderbilt.

Ed. Note: The following is a series of questions asked by members of the media to Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings at SEC Media Day 2003, and Stallings' responses. Part V in a series.

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Q: Your teams have seemed to struggle when they get into those dog days of February. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Could it be something related to the academic calendar at Vanderbilt?

A: The only thing I can tell you that I think has impacted it more than anything else is... youth. Three years ago, 100 percent of our minutes at the point guard position were played by freshmen. Two years ago, 100 percent of our minutes at the center position were played by freshmen. Last year we had no seniors. The dog days take their toll on the younger teams. That's the only thing I can figure... except that in February you're playing all league opponents, and if you're inferior in any way, that will be exposed. If you go back and look at my Illinois State teams, you'll find our records were amazing in February. But they were amazing when we had older, stronger, more physical kids. Maybe that will happen to us this year... we're a little older and a little stronger.

Q: It looks from the Media Guide as though this will be Martin Schnedlitz's last year with your program?

A: That's correct.

Q: How's his health? Any chance he could be a 5-10 minute player for you?

A: It's hard to say because his knee has just been so up and down. We certainly hope that Martin makes a contribution to our team this year, and I think in some ways he will. But you can never predict it, because the volatility of his knee just does not allow any consistent prediction on what will happen.

Q: Jason Holwerda... he's a guy who has maybe not lived up to his high school hype. It seems like at times he's been very hesitant to shoot. He's such an unselfish player... is it possible he's unselfish to a fault?

A: Yeah, I would say at times he hasn't been aggressive enough. But he's been a very good player for us-- it just hasn't been in the area of scoring points. He's one of the best defenders in the league in my opinion. He's an excellent passer, an excellent team guy. He's played very well for us, just not in the area of scoring points on a consistent basis. But that does not keep him from being an effective player. I mean, it would be great if he scored more! But...

Q: Did you ask him to improve on anything over the off-season?

A: I'd just like for him to continue to try to be more aggressive. But you can't force something on a kid. They have to understand it and see it. We want him to be more aggressive offensively, but every other aspect of his game has been terrific as far as we're concerned.

Q: The departure of Brian Thornton-- how has that changed the makeup of the 5-spot? Is that going to be kind of by committee this year?

A: No... Julian [Terrell] had pretty much taken over that spot last year at the end of the season last year anyway. Julian has really given us as coaches a reason to be excited-- the way he's played in Europe, the way he's played in practice so far. I don't necessarily think it will be by committee, I just think that we've improved at that position. Julian has made a real solid claim that he's going to be our other post player, and it looks like he's going to be a very effective one.

Q: Is Jason Holwerda your starter at the two?

A: If we had to start today, he would. He's getting some challenge, though. If I were going to start the five players who had performed the best in practice though, I don't know if he'd be one of them. He's the kind of player that you know, over the course of time, he'll be there. Corey Smith has been a little up and down too, which has been a little bit of a concern. But Russell has been really good. Adam Payton has been very good. Mario has been very good. So from the perimeter standpoint, there's a little more competition than maybe there was last year.

Q: If you were going to start a game tonight, who would you start?

A: I would probably start Mario and either Jason or Russ or Corey, two of those three-- and Matt and Julian.

Q: So Russell and Mario could see a lot of minutes together?

A: Yeah.

Q: Which one slides over?

A: Russell will. He's bigger, stronger, can guard bigger guys. But Mario and Julian have really improved. They've kind of taken off from where they left off last year. At the end of last season they were both playing pretty well. Their improvement combined with their athleticism just gives us a better chance to get Matt what he needs.

Q: This summer a lot of the coaches were saying your team might be a team to watch. Do you get that feeling?

A: I don't know if I get that feeling, but I hope they're right! (chuckle) You could start to see some things, in spite of the way our season ended. In New Orleans, we have one freshman [Mario Moore] who in two tournament games throws in 25 and 18, and another one [Julian Terrell] that has double-figure points. It just stands to reason that it has a chance to get better.

Q: Do you feel like you have the athleticism to match what you're seeing night in and night out?

A: I feel we're getting closer. We're in the process of becoming more athletic.

Q: I know you can't talk about recruiting, but this fall...

A: Yeah, we've gotten more athletic.

Q: Was it a conscious decision to go after these guys and not be afraid?

A: You know what happened? We had two years to recruit this class. We didn't have any scholarships last year in the fall, so all we did in the fall was recruit juniors. We worked these kids hard.

Q: The kids you've recruited seem to be great kids. Do you have any checks in your recruiting process where you would mark a guy off with a certain type of personality?

A: I don't want to coach bad kids. Bad kids just don't make it in our program. They don't survive for very long. If we do make a mistake, it's not a mistake for too long, because the kid is miserable. But we do have great kids. That's the best thing about our program, the quality of kid that we have there. You need to be able to pass the "Do I want to come out every day and coach you?" test. If I don't want to come out there and coach him, neither one of us is going to have any fun.

Q: Even from your high school days, you were ultra-competitive. That's carried over into your coaching. Has it been tough on you personally because of what you said about not being able to build up the program as quickly as you would have liked?

A: Yeah, very much so. Last year was by far the most difficult experience professionally that I've ever dealt with. I underestimated how long it would take. Hopefully we're on the verge of turning that corner, and my players can experience the type of success that they envisioned when they came here. There's a process that you have to go through in recruiting-- especially at a place like ours-- to figure out where to take your shots. Our recruiting base does have to be more national, even though we want to do the best job we can in the state of Tennessee. You run some risks when your base doesn't provide you with the quantity of players you need to be successful.

Q: You got a little lucky with two kids there in the city though, didn't you?

A: We sure did. Thank goodness for 'em, too.


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