VandyMania Interview: Kevin Stallings (Pt. 1)

In his first lengthy interview of the 2004-05 season, Vanderbilt men's basketball head coach Kevin Stallings sat down with VandyMania to talk about his returning players... his incoming recruits... the upcoming season... his new contract... and much, much more. (Part 1 of 2)

VandyMania: Coach Stallings, first of all, let's just take a good hard look at your roster and talk about strengths and weaknesses. Let's start by talking about some things your team ought to be really good at, and some reasons why it might have a chance to do some nice things this year.

Kevin Stallings: Well, I'm not sure what the strengths of this team are going to be, because not having a chance to be in practice with them, and knowing that we have a number of new guys that we expect to have some level of impact on our team, I don't know what I can anticipate as our strengths. I think-- we will have some experience. We have five guys that started 15 games or more last year. That's certainly a positive. I thought the play of Ted Skuchas last year was really, really good. It looks like with Dawid Prybyzyewski and Julian Terrell and Ted, we have some guys inside that are tested, but I think all those guys played with a security blanket last year with having Matt Freije in there with them. Certainly the question becomes how well the frontcourt can perform without Matt's presence. Like I said, the thing that we have is some experience. But I don't know what we will be good at, and what we might not be so good at. I probably won't know that until a couple of weeks, after practice begins.

VM: It seems like this ought to be one of your deeper teams as well. True?

Stallings: I don't know that I could say that. I think we're having to count on freshmen for some of our depth, or maybe for even a lot of our depth. You never know how that's going to go until those guys have a chance to get in there and play. It's difficult to say. We have seven guys who played last year. All seven proved that they could perform at different times at a high enough level to help us be successful. So provided that all those guys take a step forward, that will take some of the pressure off our freshmen to provide anything that represents consistency. I don't know that we can yet say we're a deep team. There's no way that we can say at this juncture that our freshman class can contribute. We think they're good players and that over the course of time they're going to be good players, but we don't know how quickly they'll develop into the players we foresee them being.

VM: Last year was a really exciting year for fans. The team made great strides in their won-loss record and got to the postseason, and they did it with essentially the same team they'd had the year before. You've had six months to think about that now. If you had to point to one or two things that helped last year get turned around, what would you say?

Stallings: I would say it had everything to do with our players' attitudes, their courage, heart and desire for betterment. We got great leadership from our senior class last year, and great play from our senior class. That had a lot to do with it. I think that we were able to get a lot stronger, and more physical, and that helped us particularly around the basket. It helped us defensively. I think the added strength and conditioning was vital to our step forward.

Then I think that the opportunity to take that European trip last summer was very instrumental, because it gave us a chance to sort of flush the season before it before we got to the next season. It was an opportunity to grow and develop some chemistry in a way that is not always available to you, and it just happened to be a year where we could go and do that. That was very instrumental as well.

VM: Looking at the guys whom you're bringing in this year-- and you also brought in Derrick Byars-- it really seems as though you are upgrading the team in terms of athleticism, and that if some of these guys end up playing a lot, these guys might be just remarkably more athletic than the team you had last year. Is that your view as well?

Stallings: I think that we have faster, quicker, higher-jumping guys, if that's what represents one's definition of athleticism. So yeah, I think the level of athleticism has been upgraded, and we're getting faster and quicker. But what we've traded is the school's all-time leading scorer, and two other guys who had great toughness in Russell Lakey and Scott Hundley, and especially great defensive tenacity and savvy. So, while we might look better and look more like some of the teams we play against, we lost a lot of leadership and toughness from our team a year ago that will have to be replaced if we have any expectation of having a better season than the team we had a year ago.

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