Chemistry shouldn't be issue for Vandy men

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-- Preseason expectations ran high for last year's Vanderbilt men's basketball team. But that team stumbled to a 17-13 record and missed out on its goal, an NCAA Tournament berth.

Thursday at Southeastern Conference Basketball Tipoff 2006, Coach Kevin Stallings and two of his players attributed much of last year's disappointing season to poor team chemistry. But Stallings, senior Derrick Byars and junior Shan Foster, speaking to members of the media, all said there should be no such chemistry issues with the 2006-07 team.

"Any time a team is going to be successful, there has to be complete buy-in, from the players to the coaches," Stallings said. "Our players would be the first to tell you that there were situations [last year] where there was not complete buy-in.

"But the good news about that is that our team is very committed to having good chemistry. I think they've already demonstrated their commitment to that."

Fans will recall the 2005-06 season as one of missed opportunities, and much of the turmoil centered around the erratic play of now graduated point guard Mario Moore. Moore was benched at various times during the season, and left the team at one critical juncture for unspecified medical reasons.

Following the season, sophomore forward DeMarre' Carroll abruptly decided to transfer, citing a desire to play a different position.

"[The lack of chemistry] wasn't team-wide," said Stallings, careful not to name players. "It was just a couple of isolated situations, very confined to specific areas. But I think the leadership of our team has said, listen, we're not going to let that happen again."

Stallings said that this year's players have self-imposed off-season team activities that have created more team togetherness.

"There are team-building things you can do as a coach, but chemistry ultimately lies within the players," Stallings said. "Coaches don't control the chemistry. They don't control how players get along, how players behave. You can control some of the things that go on on the court, but you only get two or three hours a day with them, and then they go back to the dorm.

"But again, I don't think that will be anything close to an issue with us this year."

"I just think it was an overall lack of effort from the whole team, just to make sure team chemistry was one of our focuses," said Foster, who was named Second-Team Preseason All-SEC Thursday by the media. "We've taken it upon ourselves to see that that's not going to be an issue this year.

"Whenever we had a free weekend, we went and did something together as a team. We've thrown parties. We've done cookouts. We did that some last year too, but not nearly as much. It's helped us appreciate each other more, and helps us work harder for each other on the court."

Asked to rate this year's team chemistry from 1 to 10, Foster rated it a '10'. "We are more together this year than we've been since I've been here."

"It's very obvious that our team paid the price this summer," Stallings said. "They put in their work. You can tell it in their conditioning. You can tell it in their skill improvement.

"You can tell it in their attitude. You can tell in every way that they really, really put it out there. I cannot find one thing about one guy that suggests that they all didn't work their butt off to try to have a good season."

With the loss of four big men from last year's roster-- Julian Terrell to graduation, Carroll to a transfer, Davis Nwankwo to medical issues, and redshirt Kyle Madsen to a transfer-- rebounding is likely to be an issue for the Commodores this season. But Stallings seemed unworried Thursday.

"We'll be a better rebounding team this year than we were a year ago," he matter-of-factly told members of the print media. "Ross Neltner will really help us rebound. Alan Metcalfe will really help us rebound.

"I firmly believe we'll be improved in the post. I may be going out on a little bit of a limb to say that, but I believe that based on what I've seen thus far in practice."

Foster and Byars echoed those sentiments.

Shan Foster and Derrick Byars pose Thursday at SEC Media Days.

"The big men that we do have-- Alan Metcalfe, Ted Skuchas, JeJuan Brown, Ross Neltner-- they've done an incredible job this summer in preparing themselves, getting bigger, getting stronger," Foster said. "I think they're going to do a great job of making up for the losses we had last year."

"It will be hard to replace the guys that left," added Byars, "but I feel with the pieces we have coming in, they can compensate. It also gives us a different look."

The Commodores play an exhibition game next Wednesday against Northern State, before opening at home Nov. 15 against Georgetown.


The assembled media picked Vanderbilt Thursday to finish fourth in the SEC East. The media picked Florida, the defending NCAA champion, to finish first in the SEC East as well as the entire conference. Click here to see the complete preseason predictions from the media. Top Stories