Vanderbilt basketball: The Next Generation

They're raw. They bring a degree of explosive athleticism not seen in a Vanderbilt recruiting class since... well, maybe ever. Best of all, they're already on campus, taking classes and working out with the men's basketball team. Four of Vandy's five 2004 signees, plus Virginia transfer Derrick Byars, took time out to chat with VandyMania Tuesday. Click here to see an enlarged version of this photo, and to read some of their first impressions.

Ed. Note: Of Vanderbilt's five fall men's basketball signees for 2004, all except one (Alan Metcalfe) have been on campus this summer taking classes to get a leg up on the fall. Beginning classes this week is Derrick Byars, the 6-7 junior transfer from Virginia who must sit out this season due to NCAA rules. In between weightlifting and conditioning drills on Tuesday, VandyMania spoke briefly with three of the signees, as well as Byars. We asked them about their summer classes, their goals for the summer, and their first impressions about being at Vanderbilt.

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DeMarre Carroll is a 6-6 wing forward from Birmingham. At John Carroll Catholic High School, alongside Alabama point guard signee Ronald Steele, he led his team to back-to-back state championship seasons.

Carroll has already acquired a nickname, the same nickname he had in high school. "They call me 'D'," he says (which should make him the first "D" at Vanderbilt since Deandre Moore.

Besides working out daily with the team, Carroll is taking an English class in Drama in the month of July.

"My goal for the summer is to improve my skills, gain about 20 pounds, leave it all on the basketball court and get quicker and faster."

What about Vanderbilt has made the biggest impression since he's arrived?

"The weight room. That's the biggest thing that struck me. I'm not used to lifting weights back where I'm from, so that's the biggest thing. It's a big improvement."

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Davis Nwankwo, a 6-9 power forward from the greater Washington D.C. area, made a late decision to sign with Vanderbilt in April. Like Carroll, he has already acquired a nickname from his teammates.

"They call 'Kwakwa'. Mario Moore came up with that," Nwankwo laughed.

A studious type who chose Vanderbilt for its academics as much as its basketball program, Nwankwo is taking Philosophy 105 and now I'm taking English 109W, Forms and Techniques, during the summer.

"Probably the biggest surprise has been all the walking around," says the College Park, Md. native. "Yeah, walking to classes. It's pretty hot up here, so I sweat a lot."

For the former Georgetown Preparatory School star, the goal for the summer is very clear.

"I just try and dunk everything," he says with a twinkle. "I try to."

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Alex Gordon, the 6-0 point guard signee from Pensacola (Fla.), is easily the most talkative member of this bunch. While the others seem rather quiet and reserved initially, Gordon seems at ease in front of the cameras and microphones.

"The summer courses I've taken so far are Sociology 102 and I'm in English 109 right now," he says.

"My goal for this summer is to gain – not really gain that much weight on me, I'm like 167 right now, so the coaches are not really worried about me gaining weight because I'm pretty strong.

"I'm just trying to quicker and stronger and just get prepared for the season and come out and have a big impact on the team."

His most powerful first impression of Vanderbilt?

"Nothing really, because I already had a view of college of what college was going to be. But other than that, I like it."

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VandyMania: Derrick, three years ago this summer you were going to camps, thinking about colleges, ended up going to Virginia. Now, three years later, you're here. What happened during that time that makes Vanderbilt the right place for you now?

Derrick Byars: Ultimately, I just wasn't happy out there. I didn't really feel it was the place for me. I just felt like a change was needed, so I looked into this and I figured it was a good fit for me.

VM: What are the things you like about Vanderbilt, both as a school and as a program?

Derrick: Proximity to home. It's close to Memphis. Home is important to me, as far as family and everything. The coaches-- Coach Stallings, I'm glad he stayed, and the program seems to be headed in the right direction right now. All those interested me.

VM: Were you sweating it out during the time when the Ohio State talk was going on?

Derrick: I was. I really was. (Breaks into a big smile.)

VM: How did the timing of when that surfaced coincide with your decision to transfer in?

Derrick: Actually, when he was looking into Ohio State, it was actually a week or two after I had signed. I was like, man! Whether he left or stayed, I still would have wanted to come here, but I was glad it worked out the way it did.

VM: Can you tell me a little bit about your game?

Derrick: Slasher, shooter, team player, winning attitude. I guess you can use those to describe my game.

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From left, Derrick Byars, Davis Nwankwo, Alex Gordon, DeMarre' Carroll, Shane Foster (wing forward, New Orleans).

Photos by Whitney D., copyright 2004 for VandyMania.com.

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