Stallings faces the media, Part I

Last Thursday at SEC Basketball Media Day, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings sat at a round table while reporters fired questions at him, on everything from last year's team chemistry to this year's rules changes. Here are some of those questions, and his answers. (Part I)

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Q: [Florida's] Billy Donovan was here yesterday, and he talked about how you don't ever have a master plan in recruiting, where, say, if I get these guys, they're going to really mesh in terms of positions, or skills. It just sort of happens. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings: Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't happen. Sometimes it can be one guy... it can be any number of things. It can be a player that thinks he's going to be an NBA guy, and all of a sudden his approach to basketball becomes, what do I have to do to get to the league? It can be a guy with his own agenda, or a couple of guy. You could have dissension amongst players... there are a lot of different ways that it can not come together.

Q: Is the point guard particularly critical?

A: Oh, I just think the older guys are really critical to chemistry. The veteran players are critical to chemistry... because they've been around longer and the younger players generally look up to them. A lot of times they will follow that lead... and that's what I like about our team. The majority of our team are juniors and seniors now. I think they're all guys that are pretty single-minded in what they're wanting to accomplish as a team. As a coach, you just feel like that gives you a chance.

Q: There were a lot of games that you guys lost late. I know that was frustrating to you. Does that thing we're talking about, the chemistry, manifest itself in those kind of situations? It's tough to close out games because there's bad chemistry? Is there any relation to it at all?

A: I certainly think there's relation to it. I think the chemistry begins with trust. There has to be trust from player to player. There certainly has to be trust from player to coach, coach to player. But the most important trust is from player to player. You have to be able to depend on the guy that's out there with you to do the right thing, and do the thing he's been coached to do. When you went back and watched tape [of last year], we just had guys who would do things that... we would sit around as an entire team and look at each other like... you can't be serious. We practiced these kinds of things and we talked about it in the huddle. I feel like our teams have been pretty good over the years in close games. And some of the most bizarre things... and that's... I'll take responsibility for that, because the only thing I can tell you to that is, apparently we didn't spend enough time doing it. So... we'll spend more time working on those things this year.

Q: Shan Foster... is he transitioning from being a young player into being your team leader now?

A: Yeah, yes he is. Shan is a guy that probably had as good a summer as... going into practice I told my wife that he was probably our most improved player... which is saying something, because he was our best player to begin with. So Shan is a guy who is trying to take on a leadership role, certainly from a playing perspective. His game lends itself to that, because he's one of our best if not our best player. The thing I like about him is, he's a great worker. He's not a guy that is ever focused on himself. He's always focused on the team. Some of those things we were just talking about with guys looking past the team they're playing on, to maybe the next team that they're going to play on, those things won't happen to Shan. Because he's just not that kind of a kid. He is really focused on this team and his teammates, and he really did have a great offseason.

Q: Did you see that in him when he first came in?

A: I knew he was a great kid. He comes from a great family. His family structure is such that they've given him so much support and guidance... and good support and good guidance, not bad support and bad guidance, and you see that sometimes too. He just is surrounded by love and care, and he is a product of that, and you can see that in him. Shan is probably, as much as anybody on our team, the guy that cares about how other people are feeling or doing or playing. Shan is a sensitive guy that way. He really has a great capacity to care about others.

Q: Kevin, I think it was last year at this time when we were talking about some of the rules changes, and you out of nowhere brought up about the airborne player out of bounds. That rule has been changed. How hard did the coaches fight for that?

A: I don't know how hard the coaches fought to change it. It might have been something as simple as the rules committee just saying it needed to be changed, and it got passed that way. I've despised the ability to do that from day one. I'm glad that now you have to make a play. There's a skill, there's an art, there's a hustle factor to, you see a teammate going out of bounds, and he's getting ready to try to put the ball back into play, so positioning yourself for that pass rather than going to the floor and calling timeout. I just never liked that. I'm really glad that that's changed. That will make for some really exciting plays, and it might be finishes to games. It will really change, I think, some of that. The other thing is, guys being on the ground, and so a guy is kind of touching the ball with part of his arm, looks up and calls timeout. Some of the refs would get duped and give the kid the ball. You watch the film, and this guy had the ball, but this guy kind of touched it and called timeout. The ref responds and gives him the timeout. Now what I'm told is that they guy has to clearly be in possession of the ball. Hopefully that will be the case, because I just didn't like those rules.

Q: Was part of that because it penalizes good defense?

A: No, I just thought... my own son's done it, making, as my high school coach would have called it, a grandstand play. A guy gets the ball, gets a little off-balance as he's going out of bounds, so he calls timeout. Well doggone it, tip it around and learn how to get on-balance and learn how to play the game, and don't use one of your coach's timeouts. Those are my timeouts! (Laughs) Damn it! Don't print that. (Laughs) ... 150 years ago when I played, you learned how to save the ball. You learned where to save. There were times when you just ate it and stepped out of bounds with it, because you weren't going to throw it under the other team's basket. You know. We used to practice shooting, too. (Laughter.)

Q: What do you think about all this energy that's being expended on these committees to improve skill. C.M. Newton is on it... have you heard about that?

A: I've not heard about it, but now there's a novel idea. How much longer are we going to go on getting beat in international competition before we realize we're getting beat at our game because they're more fundamentally sound than we are?

Q: Have you found that to be true with international kids you've brought in? They come in more fundamentally sound?

A: Oh, sure! Sure. We were just recruiting a kid overseas. His regimen is lifting or shooting before class in the morning. If you lift, you come in and get an individual shooting session in during your day, even a day that you lift. Then you came in for your practice in the afternoon, then you either had study hall or you came back for a free throw shooting session at night. Now, I wonder why those guys are better than us?

Q: Our guys are probably playing X-Box.

A: Exactly. And as his coach said to me, the difference between your deal and our deal is, we can have them for 25 hours a week, and you guys have them for 2. I'm not bemoaning how many hours a week we get to work with them.

Q: Aren't they ruined before they get to you?

A: Ruined is too strong a word. It's just that we're not giving them the fundamental base that we were giving them 20 years ago. In the summertime I used to go up to the gym, and all summer long we were taught fundamentals. Now all these kids do is play games. I don't see any way that's going to be changed or reversed. I know this, as long as we keep the same approach, we're going to keep getting beat, and that's not any fun.

Q: Would you ever consider recruiting a guy and allowing him to play either baseball or football besides basketball?

A: Absolutely.

Q: You haven't had a guy like that...

A: No, but we've tried though. We tried with Andrew Brackman, the kid at North Carolina State. Tim Corbin, the baseball coach, and I went into his home and tried to get him to come to Vanderbilt. Obviously we weren't successful, but... we flew up on the plane together, talked to him at the same time. Same night.

Q: Who did most of the talking?

A: I did. We probably would have gotten him if I'd let him talk. (Laughter) But I wouldn't have a problem with it, if it was OK with Bobby, or OK with Tim.

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