Carroll: "We can play with anybody"

The atmosphere in Monday's practice was a confident one, as Coach Stallings and the Commodore began to gear up for Wednesday's game against South Carolina. Shan Foster, who has been poised throughout this season, summed up the team's attitude: "We can play with anybody, especially in this league… there's not a team that we don't think we can beat on a day-to-day basis. That's how we approach things now."

That attitude of mental toughness has been somewhat lacking in Commodore teams of the recent past. One indicator of a mentally tough attitude in a college basketball team is a successful road record, and the ‘Dores already have three solid road victories under their belts – including the recent win at Kentucky. In the past two seasons, the Commodores struggled on the road, only winning a total of 7 road games.

DeMarre Carroll explains the team's attitude by pointing to several factors, including off-season preparation, leadership, and poise. "When your team is in a tough situation… that's where you have leaders like J.T. and Mario, who come up and tell us to be calm under pressure. You've got to have leaders, and you need other individuals who are willing to follow their lead and listen to them."

DeMarre and the rest of the team know what it takes to win on the road – physical and mental preparation. "Preparing for a road game, you have to understand that everybody in the crowd is going to be against you… it's really like the other team has that sixth person. You have got to go out there with the mindset to block everything out and just focus on what Coach asks you to do. It's all about execution and poise, and being calm under pressure."

The confidence of players like Foster and Carroll brings a new "road soldier" attitude to the team. "We know that we can go anywhere on the road and play anybody out there," said Foster, "It's just a mind thing – we stick together, we go out there, and we fight for each other."

Coach Kevin Stallings praised the Commodores for their good start to the season, but he issued a stern warning to fans and players alike: don't get caught up in the past. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish. This thing is a long way from over… the conference season separates the contenders from the pretenders. We always go into the conference season hoping that we're contenders, and after 16 games there's usually a lot of separation. We hope that we separate out to the top."

"It's good to come back home," said Stallings, "Those games were fun to play in, and 2 out of those 4 were victories. We feel good about those, but we still think that we left a lot out on the table. But that's in the past now. To have a successful season, we will need to be great at home."

The team is poised and primed for success. The atmosphere in practice is focused and determined, reflecting the emotional stability of this team. Emotionally, it is easy to get too high after wins and too low after losses – the Commodores have successfully put the past behind them, ready to move on and succeed in the future. Attitude reflects leadership, and the team still looks to seniors Mario Moore and Julian Terrell for that guidance and composure.

"We have faith that they will keep leading us in the right direction," said DeMarre Carroll. "It's really a faith thing – a trust thing. The team has gained faith and trust in each teammate all season long… some guys might be down, some might be up, but we all know what everybody brings to the table."

Derrick Byars is another emergent leader for the Commodores. As a junior with an extra year of practice gained while transferring to Vanderbilt, he is one of the older and more experienced players on the team. Shan Foster points out that Derrick's leadership skills have improved in the last several weeks: "Derrick has stepped up and played really well. He has become a more vocal leader, especially in the past few games. He plays with a lot of heart, and he's one of our defensive stoppers – that helps him lead."

Since the team's chemistry and attitude are at 100%, the Commodores have a chance to focus exclusively on execution. One problem for Vanderbilt in their losses this season has been rebounding, but Foster and Carroll don't expect the team's rebounding difficulties to continue.

"I'm not going to say it's a big problem," said DeMarre. "Certain people know that they have to rebound better – me for example, and [Julian Terrell], we just have to go out there and rebound… Arkansas was just one game, just one slip. Me and Julian will pick it up; it's not really that big of a deal."

Shan Foster pointed out that the blame doesn't rest just with the post players – quick perimeter players have been grabbing key rebounds against the Commodores. In their two most recent losses, Vanderbilt gave up 11 rebounds to guard Ronnie Brewer, and 9 rebounds to Georgia Tech's shooting guard, Anthony Morrow. "We have just got to be better and more focused on boxing those guys out," said Foster. "Sometimes we're trying to get back on defense too quickly – there's a lot of things that go into that. Mostly, we just have to be more aggressive."

The bottom line is that while the ‘Dores put their past behind them, they still learn from their mistakes. Because they know that they are capable of winning every game they play, the team takes responsibility for their own losses.

In reference to the team's three losses so far, DeMarre Carroll says "It's just us beating ourselves… we let those teams bring the fight to us. In the two losses before our conference season, we came out lackadaisical."

"Cincinnati – they had losses, but they came here and beat us. And we went to Georgia Tech thinking that was a sure thing. We just really underestimated some teams and beat ourselves, doing stupid turnovers and making bad plays. We didn't do what Coach asked us to do, so we beat ourselves."

The Commodores aren't too worried though. They learn from each loss, and would not rule out the possibility of running the table from here on out. At least not if you judge by DeMarre Carroll's thoughts on the team: "That Arkansas game was one slip-up, but we are a great team. Great teams might fall, but they always get back up. We'll get back up."


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