Q: What does Derrick Byars need to do to take his game to the next level this year?
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings: Just... be assertive. He just has to be assertive. Derrick's a laid back guy. He's a great guy, a great teammate, in terms of his personality. I mean, you talk about a guy who's well-liked on the team... Derrick is very well-liked. We like him as coaches. He just needs to be a little bit more assertive. His talent level is there. I should probably also go on record as saying I'm really surprised he wasn't on one of the preseason all-conference teams. I mean, we're going to pick 16 guys? Really, really surprised. Almost to the point to my first year in the league, when they asked me if I was surprised that Dan Langhi wasn't on the All-SEC Preseason team. I said yes, I'm pretty surprised. He was SEC Player of the Year. I'm surprised Derrick wasn't on one of those first two teams. They're obviously all good players on there, but I believe in my heart he's one of the best 16 players in the league.
Q: That's the coaches who left him off. What do you think it is about his game that didn't register with them?
A: I don't know. He was our best defender. He led us in assists. He played four different positions during the year. He was our second-leading scorer. And that's OK... I guess I wish it for him. It makes no difference to me, because there's nothing less meaningful than preseason predictions. Really! After the season, those are meaningful, I think. I think it's awesome that kids are acknowledged and rewarded. It's nice that they're rewarded before the season. That's nice, but it doesn't tell the story. It only tells the story of last year. But I'll be surprised, when the roll is counted at the end of the year, if Derrick's not one of those players.
Q: Could it be that he's a jack-of-all-trades and doesn't do just one thing that jumps out at you?
A: Maybe. But he sure is a jack of all of them. There's nothing that kid can't do on a basketball court. He might be able to do more things on a court than any kid I've ever coached. Some of the stuff he does is insane. He'll do something in practice, and as coaches, we're just... man! He makes pro plays. He's 6-7 and weighs about 230 pounds. And yet he's got the fastest feet and the quickest hands... he'll just all of a sudden get from this side of the lane or the perimeter to the other side of the basket, and he'll be laying it in. And he got there so fast... he just does things. He's got freakish talent. He can defend, he can rebound, he can score, he can pass. Now... consistency, assertiveness, those things that Derrick... Derrick always comes to give you a good effort. Last year I used to tease him that he was convinced the NCAA had made a mistake, that we were supposed to get two days off a week. He would take the day off that we gave him, and then he would pretty much take another day off during the week. But he's really changed that this summer. I like Derrick, and I'm glad he's on my team.
Q: Is he an athlete who's a basketball player, or is he a basketball player who's an athlete?
A: He's a basketball player that's an athlete. Now he'll get carried away once in a while and throw a one-handed pass four rows up. But he's a basketball player. He's got an extremely high skill level. Good shooting skills. Good dribbling skills. He just happens to be quick and fast and can jump high, all those other things.
Q: Kevin, on paper you're losing your top two rebounders, and you guys weren't the top rebounding team in the conference last year. Is the situation as bleak as it appears in that area?
A: No. We'll be a better rebounding team this year. Ross Neltner will really help us rebound. Alan Metcalfe will really help us rebound. Metcalfe may be our best rebounder per minute. Now, he didn't get many minutes. He's the one guy that we had, even last year, that would rebound the ball above the rim. Our perimeter players will do a better job. We'll be a better rebounding team this year than we were a year ago.
Q: What do you envision from Neltner?
A: Well, he's going to play a lot. He'll have a very significant impact, because he's one of our team's best passers. I would say one of his best skill is his passing. What that does is it tends to make everybody around him better. He just has a knack for feeding or finding a guy on the perimeter, or getting the ball in a post-up situation and finding guys that are spotted up when the help comes. But he's also a very good rebounder, on both ends. We've had a couple of guys the last two years who've been really good offensive rebounders, but not been real good defensive rebounders. Ross is a good rebounder on both ends. Metcalfe is a good rebounder on both ends. Metcalfe will get you some offensive rebounds. Ross is rugged. He's physical. He guards. He's bloodied a couple of noses in practice already. Not by punching anybody, just by them getting too near him. He kind of has one speed, and that's all out. We think Ross is going to make a significant contribution. Ross's greatest contribution may be intangible, just because of the toughness that he brings. That has just been a real good thing for our practices.
Q: Does he help you because as a 4-man he can also shoot the 3, like you like your 4-guys to do?
A: Yeah, for sure. It stretches the defense. And again, when he stretches it, he stretches it not only just to shoot it, but to pass it. The other thing is, he can put the ball on the floor. He's not going to be taking point guards off the dribble, but he can drive the ball to the basket.
Q: Did it hamper your guys the last couple of years, not having a 4-guy who could play with perimeter skills?
A: Yeah. We tried to play around it. We tried to figure out other ways to maximize. But yeah, it hurt us not having that fourth guy that could make shots.
Q: Is [Neltner] fully healthy? Is he 100 percent?
Q: Do you think this is going to be the year that the post player is going to be the dominant position in the league?
A: You would think so. You would certainly look at Glen Davis and Joakim Noah and Al Horford and Randolph Morris and Charles Rhodes... and a host of others. Jemareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix... the list goes on and on. Yeah, I would say this year, unlike some years, the post players appear to be the dominant position in the league. I really think for any team to succeed, they'll have to get some decent low-post play.
Q: Does it go in cycles, or is it that maybe these are the kids that two years ago, three years ago would have been early-entry [NBA]?
A: I think it's a cycle thing. I think it's probably a little bit of an upset that Glen didn't go to the NBA, or maybe that Noah or Horford didn't go to the NBA. I think it tends to run in cycles. Next year it might be perimeter players, or point guards, or wings or whatever. This year it seems like the post players are the dominant players in the league. The pro guys are just like us. They're looking for big guys. There are just so few of them.
Q: Having said that, where's your dominant post player?
A: I don't know if we have a dominant post player. I do 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. I feel pretty strongly about that.