VandyMania: You've always played a lot of man-to-man defense. But with this much athleticism coming back this year, do you see your team going to a little bit more aggressive,full-court pressing and trapping style? If you had your druthers, would you like to be able to play a Vandy version of "40 minutes of hell"?
Kevin Stallings: No, that's not my personality, nor my comfort zone. I want to play the game in a fundamentally sound way, and we'll up the pressure when we think it's to our advantage or when we need to. We certainly want to defend the basket. We're going to press some, and we're going to adjust the pressure in our man-to-man defense. I think you have to be what your personality is...
VM: And that's not really your personality?
Stallings: Well, I don't want to say it's not me... just because we're more athletic doesn't automatically mean that we're more athletic than those people we're playing against. If I'm going to play Tiger Woods in a golf match, I've got a much better chance of winning that golf match if it's a one-hole match than I do if it's an 18-hole match. I don't really have a chance either way, but I'm just illustrating the point... if you are the most talented team, then the higher number of possessions you can create, the more it favors your chances to win. Just because we're more athletic than we've been doesn't mean that it's in our best interest to have the highest number of possessions in a game that we can have. It still might be that a Kentucky or Mississippi State or Alabama is more athletic. Now maybe they're not, but don't confuse being more athletic with, suddenly we need to adjust our style of play. What we need to do is to become as effective as we can with our style of play. Last year we proved that our style of play is good, and it's easy to recruit to. Kids like to play in our style of play, but it doesn't necessarily have to be represented by "40 minutes of hell" pressing basketball.
Because quite frankly, nobody does that. You know, people have reputations for pressing, whether it's Kentucky or Florida, and they don't even press that much. If you watch the actual number of possessions in a game where they press, it's very, very few.
Stallings: There's not much of a story to it. We recruited Derrick hard when he was in high school. He visited Virginia and committed before he ever made a visit here. At the end of last year, late in the school year, he made a decision to leave. He called us. At the time he called us we did not have a scholarship available. Basically we told him that we would love to be able to recruit him, but we didn't have a scholarship. So we basically ceased conversation with him because of that. He looked at other schools and I think had visited a couple of schools.
Several weeks after the initial contact, Adam Payton came to us and indicated he wanted to get into a situation where he would have an opportunity to play more-- which we completely understood. We helped him transfer to William & Mary, and we called Derrick back, not knowing whether he had committed someplace or not. Fortunately he was getting ready to do something, but he hadn't done anything yet. We were able to get him over here for a visit, and he still wanted to come here.
VM: Your schedule has been released... there are no Indianas or Michigans on it this year, but would you still say it fits well with the kind of team that you're putting on the floor?
Stallings: Well, it's interesting that you say no Indianas or Michigans, but yet Cincinnati, which has been a much more dominant program the last few years than either Indiana or Michigan, is on there. Oregon, who was in the Elite Eight a couple of years ago, is on there. This schedule is significantly more difficult than last year's schedule was. We've got our hands full with this schedule. We're excited about it, and at the same time respectful of it, because we know that it's extremely difficult. I don't know the number of teams that played in the Tournament and NIT, but the number is higher than it's been. Hopefully we haven't over-scheduled ourselves, which is a much greater concern of mine than anything else.
VM: Is it a bigger concern this year than last year?
Stallings: Well, last year was just... we had no idea we would go undefeated in the non-conference portion of our schedule. But I'll just tell you, it's a much more difficult schedule than our schedule was a year ago. Not that last year was easy... when we scheduled Indiana, they were just coming off a championship game appearance. We didn't expect them to have the kind of season they had a year ago. But at the same time, we've just got a lot of really, really good teams. And what really makes this schedule dangerous is that we don't have a lot of big names on the schedule. That's always the formula for getting your butt kicked.
VM: Is there anything that you can say, within the rules, or want to say about recruiting at this point?
Stallings: No. I mean, there's nothing I can say. So no. We're just recruiting and doing the best we can. But that's what we always do.
VM: About the contract that you signed this summer... I don't intend for this to be an uncomfortable question, but what does that contract symbolize for you and for the program?
Stallings: Well, interestingly, I guess there was a perception that my contract was on the verge of expiring or running out. The truth was that I had four or five years left on the other contract. There was no need or rush or hurry or problem with the contract that I was working under.
The day after our season ended, I got some phone calls that weekend saying the administration wanted to get together with me and talk about things they could do with the contract, or tear up that contract and do another one. It wasn't one of those to where I said, OK, I had a good year, so let's re-negotiate. They came to me and said they wanted to do some things, so we began that process shortly thereafter. We worked on it until we were able to get it completed.
I don't know that there's any symbolic value or importance to that contract. Obviously there was some pressure on me for us to have some success last year. We did that, and I think the administration was appreciative of that. They responded with their appreciation by doing a number of things I thought they could do to help our program. I feel like it's a comfortable working relationship. They know how I am and seem to be somewhat accepting of that! And I know how they are, and I don't have any choice but to be accepting of them. You need to own your own business if you want to be the total boss. So I try to do what they need me to do to carry out the mission of the basketball program and the athletics department and the responsibilities of the head coach. They're trying to give me what we feel like we need in order to have the best program we can have.
I think there were some misperceptions. I think people thought that I was under some pressure that I was in the last year of my contract. I mean, they could come in and terminate me today under the contract that we have now, or under the contract that we had then. But again, I think people were misinformed about the situation with the other contract. Don't get me wrong. They made some nice moves in this contract and some things that I really appreciate. They really stepped up and did some things for my assistant coaches and for our program, and those were the things that I asked for. I didn't get a pay raise. I didn't ask for a pay raise. I probably would have gotten one if I had asked for it, but this year I wanted my staff to feel rewarded and appreciated. Our administration was good to us and made that happen.
VM: Practice starts in just a few days. Is this the time of year that you start getting a little adrenaline rush?
Stallings: Yeah, I've kind of had my mind on recruiting, which is more typical than atypical for this time of year. But our staff is going to spend the next couple of days in meetings for preparation for practice and the year. We'll start turning our focus a little bit... not that it hasn't been turned already. Recruiting season, at least for our ability to be off campus, is now over for a couple of months. Now it's time to turn our full attention to get ready for practice.
Top photo by Brent Wiseman for VandyMania.com; middle photo by Bryan Hufalar for VandyMania.com; bottom photo courtesy Associated Press.