Vanderbilt is likely to get better competition from the University of Alabama at Huntsville Chargers. UAH, a Division II school, was 14-13 last season and 6-8 in the Gulf South Conference. The Chargers lost three of their top four scorers from last season, including Gulf South Conference Player of the Year Zach Carpenter (19.7 ppg), as well as Kyle Copeland (8.1 ppg) and Trey Pinegar (6.5 ppg). They return eight players, of whom four are seniors and two are juniors. Three scholarship freshmen and a transfer have joined their ranks.
The coach of UAH is Lennie Acuff, who has had six consecutive winning seasons in the eight years in which he has held his position. He was head coach at Berry College and Belhaven College before coming to UAH. He is a graduate of Shorter College.
Shooting guard Jamie Gardner, a 6-5 senior, is expected to be the Chargers' leading player this season. He was the second leading scorer last season (10.3 ppg), snaring 3.9 rebounds per game and leading the squad in assists and blocks. 6-0 sophomore Jason Smith is expected to take over point guard duties, although he saw action in only twelve games and scored just 1.9 ppg. 6-3 junior David Ivey (3.6 ppg) might get a starting nod. 6-1 freshman Tyler Dunaway is an excellent shooter and a Huntsville native. Other guards are two freshmen, 6-3 freshman Casey Stafford and 5-11 Desmond McGuire, and sophomore transfer Graham Aderholt (6-5).
The Chargers' tallest player is 6-10 sophomore center Micah de la Rosa (4.7 ppg), who is expected to start at the low post. 6-6 senior Thiago Carvalho, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and 6-4 senior Marcus Benford are also likely starters. Benford scored 6.5 ppg and Carvalho, who came on strong late in the season, notched 3.9 ppg. 6-7 sophomore Wayne Popwell (3.9 ppg) and 6-8 junior Daniel Easterly (from Lebanon Tenn.), who was injured and missed the 2003-04 season, are expected to see plenty of action. At 220 pounds, de la Rosa and Easterly carry the most heft of any of the UAH players.
Coach Acuff obviously can't hope to match Vanderbilt's size and strength. However most of his players are from Georgia and Alabama, and in high school they saw action against stars who are now on the rosters of SEC and other Division I schools. They know what they will be up against and have nothing to lose, so one may expect a scrappy performance from them.
This is not the first meeting of UAH and Vanderbilt on the basketball court. On Dec. 19, 1996, the Chargers played a Vanderbilt team that was coming off of final exams and gave VU a surprisingly good game before falling 60-47. Pax Whitehead, Drew Maddux, and Billy DiSpaltro were the leading scorers for the Commodores that night.
An interesting matchup in this game is likely to be Jason Holwerda on Gardner, a 6-5, 195-pounder. It is clear that Jason will be Vanderbilt's defensive stopper, although Corey Smith will draw tough assignments when weight and strength are factors.
Coach Stallings is likely to see a lot more of the man-to-man defense that he had hoped his players would get from Panamericana, which elected to go with a zone defense in the hope of slowing down the Commodore attack. Look for a Vanderbilt win in the 20-30 point range in this one.