Holwerda: More relaxed Stallings helped spur team

Much was made in 2003-04 of Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings' changes in personality and approach... but how much was fact, and how much was fiction? In Part Three of a series of reports from SEC Media Days, senior guard Jason Holwerda says not only were the changes tangible, they helped motivate the team to an NCAA Tournament berth.


VandyMania: Jason, I'm going to ask you first thing, do you ever look at Internet message boards or listen to talk shows? And if so, how much does it affect you?

Jason Holwerda: Well, I try not to as much as possible. A lot of times you can get caught up in that kind of stuff. It's interesting every now and then to check in and see what people are saying, but for the most part I don't listen to too much of it. I try to listen to what my teammates and coaches are saying.

VM: Do you find that easy to do? Tune it out, I mean? Season before last, especially, there was a lot of negative stuff being said.

Jason: Sometimes, because you know sometimes you'll hear things around campus, or teammates or coaches talking about certain issues that are on VandyMania or the chat rooms. It's interesting to see what Nashville's perspective and the Vanderbilt community's perspective is on things. But for the most part I just try to steer clear.

VM: You guys had a phenomenal turnaround last season, and it was essentially the same team from the year before. In your mind, what was the biggest thing that happened to change around the mindset there?

Jason: It's been said many times, and I'll just repeat what everybody's said. It was the leadership last year, having guys like Matt and Russell and Scott and Martin, guys who've been through there and have experienced the tough times. They just made a choice that that year was going to be their year, and really provided a lot of leadership, which has been an example for me and Dawid and Corey Smith to follow.

VM: But what specifically did they do?

Jason: It was just, I guess, the approach to practice. That was where it started. We took care of the process of practice. Their approach was coming out every day ready to work, trying to get better, taking care of the little things that led to the big things later in the season.

VM: Obviously they set an example that you wanted to emulate. Do you feel like you and the other two seniors have done that in the off-season?

Jason: I think we've really tried to embody what they brought to the program. We do it our own way, because we've got different personalities. Myself, Dawid and Corey are more quiet leaders. We're more leaders by example, but the same mentality is still there.

I think the biggest thing I took from Matt Freije was, every day he'd come in the training room with a big smile on his face. You could tell what kind of mood he was in. He'd go around and make sure everybody was ready to practice, giving everybody high-fives. That translated out on the court. Everybody went on the court with a lot of energy. That usually meant we were going to have a good practice.

VM: Which person on the team, maybe not one of the seniors, but which one do you feel will be your spiritual leader this year?

Jason: Without a doubt, it's going to be Mario. Everybody's seen it since his freshman year. He just loves to talk and have a good time. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's the guy that gets after people and yells at them in practice. He encourages people by yelling at them too.

VM: Is there a guy on this roster who can be to this team what Matt Freije was last year?

Jason: I don't think we're going to have a 20-point scorer, the guy who can just put a team on his back, to answer your question. But by the same token, I think we've got a combination of guys who can definitely fill that role.

VM: You've obviously got a scoring hole there. How do you see the team making up for those 20 points per game that Matt Freije provided?

Jason: I guess the most obvious answer, and maybe the best thing for us is that everybody needs to pick up their weight a little bit. I score 5 points here, Dawid 2, wherever we can get it. As good a player as Matt was, he required a lot of attention, double-team and triple-team. I think this year we've got a lot more firepower. We've got guys who can put up 10 or 15 points on any given night. I'm not really concerned about the scoring, to tell you the truth. I just think it's gonna come.

VM: There were a lot of things written and said last year about how Coach Stallings changed his approach to the game, maybe became a little "nicer", more relaxed with the team, and that seemed to spur the team on. What's your perspective on that?

Jason: It definitely happened. You could see a big change from my sophomore to my junior year, and it's continued into this year. The tangible things were coming to practice with a smile on his face, kind of upbeat, easy to be around, easy to talk to. It communicated well to the players. Because I think each team needs specific leadership and specific guidance, and last year's team needed that kind of personality from Coach Stallings, as does this year's.

For me, I'm the kind of guy that, if you're going to yell at me, if you're going to get mad at me, I'd rather you just take me aside and tell me what I did wrong, and I'll learn my lesson. You won't have to tell me again. I'm not the kind of guy that responds well to public criticism, getting yelled at. That's one way to get your message across, but guys like myself, Dawid, Corey, Mario, we're smart kids. We go to Vanderbilt. We understand basketball and what it takes to be good players.

VM: How did you mentally digest Coach Stallings' job hunt this summer?

Jason: Me and Coach spoke at length about it when he was going through the process. I told him to do what's best for your family, because ultimately that's what's going to make the difference. I had no preference either way. Of course I wanted him to stay, but I realized that it was in his best interest what he did. I think as an older guy, being here four years, I kind of listened to all of it, read the articles and everything, but wasn't too concerned about it.

VM: Did the freshmen have a different perspective on it?

Jason: Yeah. The freshmen, as soon as they heard, they kind of looked like deer in the headlights. They had bought into the coaches and the Vanderbilt atmosphere during high school, and they came in and he was going to leave. You could tell there was a lot of anxiety from those guys, which was justifiable.

VM: Do you subscribe to the theory that when you lose a star player, the team can actually get better the next year, because everybody does a little more?

Jason: I'm subscribing this year! Yep, I'm definitely a subscriber.


Photos by Brent Wiseman and Bryan Hufalar, copyright 2004 for VandyMania.com.

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