Stallings' recruiting puts VU hoops on firm ground

It may be too soon to start referring to Vandy's Class of 2008 as the "Fab Five" (though Davis Nwankwo's high school coach did compare him to former Michigan Fab Fiver Chris Webber). But it's not too soon for fans to begin mixing and matching with Kevin Stallings' new quintet of signees, and guessing where each new member might fit into the returning roster. For forward-looking Memorial Maniacs, the coming summer is going to be a long one.

The news broke late on a Friday afternoon, at a time of year when few people were even thinking about basketball. There was little fanfare-- the local newspapers barely reported it.

The announcement that Vanderbilt head basketball coach Kevin Stallings had obtained signatures from two out-of-town basketball prospects barely even registered as newsworthy.

Perhaps it was because the announcement of the signing of Davis Nwankwo and Alan Metcalfe-- a pair of 6-9 power forwards, both from the greater D.C. area-- was almost anticlimactic. Readers of this forum learned back on April 14 that the duo had made commitments to attend Vanderbilt together, one week after making campus visits on the same day.

Nonetheless, Vanderbilt fans may someday look back on April 30, 2004 as the day Vanderbilt basketball solidified its standing as a perennial SEC power. No trumpets were sounded, but in completing his recruiting odyssey of 2004 with such a flourish last Friday, Stallings accomplished something quite rare and extraordinary.

"This year was a very down year for post players, both in terms of the number and in terms of quality," Stallings pointed out Monday. "For us to be able to pull two in a spring period, both of whom we feel will potentially impact our program, was really a great thing as far as we were concerned."

In these latter days of high school phenoms jumping to the NBA and skipping college altogether, signing a quality big man has become difficult enough. The best ones who opt to attend college are generally locked up early by the Dukes and Kentuckies of the basketball world.

By the time April rolls around, the pickings are exceedingly slim. If you're lucky enough to find one quality big man... just one... in the late signing period, you've accomplished a coup. The odds against locating and landing two such post players... who are not only quality players, but academically adept enough to get into a Vanderbilt... are simply enormous. It just doesn't happen.

No one besides a few of us fans may have noticed, but Stallings and his staff defied the odds. Nwankwo happened to be available because his parents and he reportedly couldn't agree on a college back in November; Metcalfe, a British import at powerhouse Notre Dame Academy in Virginia, had not yet taken the SAT last fall and was ineligible to sign. As luck would have it, both were on the market.

Add the two post men to a class already considered Stallings' best at Vanderbilt, and you have the groundwork for a class that might be dubbed, "Vanderbilt Basketball: The Next Generation." It's a class that sets a solid foundation for the program for years to come.

"We felt like we addressed a lot of needs," Stallings said, with a degree of guarded optimism. "We certainly feel like it's a class that possesses a lot of athleticism. There's also a high level of skill in the class, we think. There's kind of a player at every position."

Complementing the two post players are fall signees DeMarre' Carroll and Shan Foster-- as athletic a pair of perimeter players as Memorial Gym will ever have seen-- and pocket-sized Alex Gordon, the quarterback with the 25-foot jumper.

Recruiting enthusiasts should probably temper their enthusiasm by recalling that not every prospect that looks great on paper will eventually pan out. The program has been stung over the last five years by unexpected departures, and the laws of natural attrition almost dictate that not all of the five can enjoy the stellar careers which fans envision. Even Stallings himself cautioned Monday against that kind of hyper-optimism.

"The truth of the matter is, in most cases, not every guy in a recruiting class works out-- that's just kind of inevitably how it happens," he said.

"But I think the odds are with these guys. If they're good workers and want to improve and contribute to a good team, then I think they can have very good careers."

What a remarkable 12 months it's been for Stallings. Thought by most to be on the warm seat last April coming off an 11-18 campaign, the cagey coach and his staff responded by securing the Gordon-Foster-Carroll trio in November, followed by the Nwankwo-Metcalfe coup last week. Oh yeah, in between they squeezed in a 23-10 season (the nation's fifth best turnaround) and a Sweet 16 appearance.

It may be too soon to start referring to Vandy's Class of 2008 as the "Fab Five" (though Nwankwo's high school coach did compare him to former Michigan Fab Fiver Chris Webber). But it's not too soon for fans to begin mixing and matching with this new quintet, and guessing where each new member might fit into the returning roster. For forward-looking Memorial Maniacs, the coming summer is going to be a long one.

******

Click here to read Monday's interview with Kevin Stallings regarding his signing class of 2004 (premium subscription required).

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Contact Brent at brent@vandymania.com


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