Interview: Dan Cage

Dan Cage, one of the greatest 3-point shooters in the history of Vanderbilt men's basketball, spoke with Vandymaniac GluttonforPunishment recently. Look inside for some interesting comments from the former Commodore star.

GluttonforPunishment:Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Dan, I understand you've been playing basketball overseas tell us a little about what you've been up to.
Dan Cage: I am currently the starting small forward on TBB-Trier of the German Bundesliga. It has been a unique experience. Living in Europe has definitely been an adjustment and adapting to the professional game has been a process as well. The city of Trier is the oldest city of all of Germany and has a lot of history to it. It is a very pretty place in the heart of the Moselle river valley and borders Luxembourg.

I am playing solid and shooting the ball well but as a team we have struggled. The basketball over here is very competitive and there are a lot of good players. Luckily, I have been given the great opportunity of starting and playing good minutes, which as a rookie has been very valuable. Something that Coach Stallings and the Vandy staff taught me, and I have found to be very true, is that as a player you always need to be working to improve. I have definitely enjoyed my first year over here so far, and if I am able to keep improving, I hope to stay for a few more years.

GFP: You almost didn't come to Vanderbilt. I heard that you had originally signed with St. Bonaventures but changed your mind when they changed coaches.
DC: The summer before my senior year of high school I broke my right hand. I was worried that the injury would effect my recruitment and the Bonaventure coaches persuaded me that it would be a great place for me to play. I liked the coaches and they had just come off a really good year in the A-10, so I committed during the early signing period. Near the end of my senior year, there was a scandal of sorts that occurred there and my parents and I felt that it was in my best interest to find somewhere else to go. I had played well that year and my team won the state championship. After a few schools showed interest, I met Coach Stallings and Coach Jackson from Vandy. I liked them right away and made a visit to the school soon after. It was a unique visit in which I got to meet Russ Lakey, Matt Friege ( or is it Frieje? I still don't know how to spell that guy's last name ha ha ha), JT, Ted Skuchas, Scott Hundley, and Mario Moore. I knew immediately that I wanted to attend Vanderbilt. Coach Stallings offered me a scholarship and I guess the rest, as they say, is history.

GFP: What are you most proud of from your time at Vanderbilt?
DC: The two sweet-16 appearances for sure. There are really no words that can fully describe what that was truly like. To share those experiences with the guys that I did is something I will remember forever and cherish very deeply. Both years we experienced a lot of adversity, and in both years we overcame that adversity by sticking together and working hard. I learned more during those basketball seasons (on the court) about life than I did in the entirety of my 4-year academic experience (not to say I didn't learn a lot in the class room as well -- that is when I attended class and stayed awake ha ha ha -- just kidding). For the record, I did take schoolwork seriously and the Vandy degree is something that I am very proud of as well. In all truth, the things I valued most in my 4 years were the relationships I formed, the success that we achieved on the court as a team, and the degree that I ended up receiving in the summer of last year.

GFP: Do you still keep in touch with any of your former teammates?
DC: I try to stay in touch with all of them. Dawid is probably the hardest guy to stay in touch with, but everyone else I get to hear from pretty regularly. We all get pretty wrapped up with the things that are going on in our lives, but most of the guys make a sincere effort to stay in touch. I can honestly say that out of all my closest friends, more than a handful are the guys I played with at Vandy. I am actually getting married this coming summer, and George, Davis, Ross, Jason, Alan, and Matt are all in my wedding party. I'm hoping most of the other guys will make it to the wedding too so we can have a little reunion.

GFP: Do you think that we have chance at making another deep run in the NCAA tournament again this year?
DC: Of course. They have more talent this year than we did last year, and the seniors are all playing at a very high level. I have been following the team very closely all year and they have all the tools they need to make some noise in March. The freshmen have played well and the guys really seem to have bought in to what the coaches are teaching. As long as they continue to work hard on a daily basis and listen to the coaching staff, anything can happen.

GFP: You participated in so many big games in Vanderbilt history. Who was the best player you played against?
DC: That is a tough question. I actually got the chance to match up with Lebron James during a summer tournament in high school and he was tough even as a 9th grader. In college, the most impressed I have ever been with an individual opponent might have been Ben Gordon of UConn. He put on a clinic against us. He showed his athleticism, his shooting ability, his ability to drive the ball, he defended and rebounded...... he did it all. One of the things about playing in the SEC though is that you're never short of matching up against quality teams and quality players. Throughout my 4 years, there were a lot of great players I got to see. I know I'm not alone in that perspective because the NBA seems to draft about 12-13 guys from the SEC every year.

GFP: Where was the most difficult place to play?
DC: I never got a win at Florida or Arkansas. They are 2 of the toughest places to play for sure. For other teams, it has to be Memorial. It's a unique place and we have the best fans in the country. We have fans so dedicated, that they'll rush the floor even though they are fully aware its going to cost 25,000 bucks. Its not even close in comparison. Therefore, Vandy is the toughest place to play.

GFP: Let's talk about some of those big games you were in.

Your freshman year you hit a three pointer with two minutes to go to beat a Top 5 Kentucky team. You guys were down ten points in the 2nd half but fought back and got the win. What did that mean to you to beat them your freshman year?

DC: It meant a lot. It was a big game, and had a lot of influence in our tournament hopes. It was really the first big televised game I had ever really played a part in. To come back and win the way we did meant a lot to our team and was a big confidence builder for us. It was an experience that we feel helped us understand what it meant to win big games and especially when it was close at the end. For me personally, it was huge that I was able to hit a big shot. To be honest, I don't even remember shooting it.

I was just a scared little freshman out there trying not to embarrass myself on national TV. I set a cross screen and then ran out to the three point line. All of a sudden I found the ball in my hands, so not knowing anything better to do with it I just heaved it up at the basket. Luckily it was nothing but net, and coach was able to sub me out so that the older guys could do all the "real" work (as he called it) on the defensive end. Russ made a huge steal at the end of the game and we made our free throws. Very exciting and a game I'll never forget.

GFP: Also your freshman year you played in the NCAA tournament game against NC State. Being down double digits with four minutes to go what was the feeling like on the sidelines?

DC: It was a great experience. Watching all the guys make so many huge plays down the stretch and play so determined is something that changed me as a person and as a player. There were 5 guys on the court in the final minutes of that game that were literally willing to die in order to win. It's that kind of determination that we played with my senior year and I attribute a lot of that to the guys that were seniors when I was a freshman. All of us on the side were almost as exhausted as the guys who had played the entire game...... that's how intense the game was and again one of reasons I'll never forget it.

GFP: Your junior year you had to feel the Memorial Magic when Holwerda hooked up with Corey Smith with 0.7 seconds left for the lay-up and win.
DC: There really is something magic about Memorial. Mario Moore hitting a buzzer beater vs. Oregon, Corey's layup, and Shan's tip in vs. Tennessee are all evidence of it. That particular play was really fun because Coach Stallings had drawn up the play in the huddle and told us that we were going to win off of it, like it was a sure thing or something. Sure enough, Jason "Favre" Holwerda threw a perfect pass and Corey put it in the basket. A great way for those two seniors to finish their great careers.

GFP: You scored 15 in the win over UT your Senior year. We actually led UT by 11 in the 2nd half and all of the sudden UT goes on a run and took the lead with a few seconds left. Shan had another touch of the Memorial Magic that night with the put back at the buzzer. What sticks out about that game? It had to feel good to break UT's heart at the buzzer.
DC: Relief. That's what I think of when I think about that game. Tennessee actually got a dunk to take the lead near the end of the game and it was Ross Neltner and I's fault. If we had lost that game, we would have been 0-2 in league play and who knows where the season would have gone from there. Luckily, Ross made an unbelievable pass, Derrick got the ball up on the basket, and Shan tipped it in. The celebration was really memorable too because we all just tackled Shan before shaking hands with the UT players. It did feel good to break their hearts. I told Keegan Bell this year before their UT game that it won't be long before he learns to hate them. They wear that obnoxious orange color and are just plain evil. (actually I'm sure they are all very nice people, but whenever its UT vs Vandy, then I consider them pure plain evil).

GFP: The Washington State game was another classic that you played in. It was another game where we were down double digits and had to fight to the very end. Derrick Byars was shooting lights out that night. It went back and forth from the last five minutes of regulation on through both overtimes. You actually had two huge rebounds in the second overtime to seal the win. What was it like playing in such a high profile game that most of the country was watching? You actually played hurt didn't you?
DC: I had injured my back earlier in the game while driving to the hoop to make a windmill 360 dunk over 7 guys....... at least that's the way I remember it. Actually I did take a nasty spill early in the game as well as in the previous game just 2 days prior. Mike Meyer, our trainer, had me taped and padded up pretty good though and I was able to play. Thank God for DB in that 2nd half. He had a rough start to the game, but just found his rhythm at the exact right time. He put us on his shoulders and took us to the sweet-16 with an amazing performance. Shan hit a lot of big shots that game too and Ted Skuchas played really well down the stretch. State was such a well-coached team that it was one of those games in which whoever made the fewest mistakes would win. Luckily we made a couple more plays than they were able to and came out on top. It was a game that personified what we as a team were all about. We overcame a lot of adversity and won the game because we stuck together and never stopped believing that we were going to win. In summation,...... it was awesome.

GFP: Georgetown. You had to have wanted that game pretty bad since they beat you earlier in the year. You jumped on them early and took the lead into the half. You scored 17 and actually hit the last two free throws that would have given us the win had Green not made that spectacular shot. How do you put something like that behind you? That game still bothers me.
DC: We did want that game pretty badly. We believed we had more basketball to play, and we all wanted to keep playing. It was a tough game to swallow because of how we lost the game. We played really tough and in my mind played well enough to win. There were a number of calls that went against us, and just a few little mental defensive errors that cost us.

GFP: To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that I will ever be able to put it completely behind me. I have relived the last 15 seconds or so a million times in my head. I think about all the things I should have done differently and all the things that I wish had gone differently. Maybe Ross or I should have dove on the ball when Green bobbled it. Was our double team hard enough? For sure, I should have called a time out after the ball went in, instead of making a quick outlet to Red. Being the bitter loser that I am, I still feel that they should have called travel. The point of doubling down in the post is to force the offensive player to do something he doesn't want/mean to do. He bobbled it, and then traveled,..... and the call should have been made. A few seconds later, Red was fouled dribbling it up court and no call was made either. (obviously we can all see that I'm still quite bitter about it, even now almost a year later). In hindsight I have to accept that bad calls or no calls is a part of the game and that there is nothing I can do about it now. I can only hope that Vandy meets Georgetown in the tournament this year and takes their revenge.

GFP: Do you think Jeff Green's shot should have counted?
DC: No, no, no..... a thousand times no.

GFP: Looking back now aren't you proud of the way your team turned the season around. Going from a team that lost to Furman at home to just one point away from the Elite Eight is an accomplishment. What are your thoughts?
DC: Like I said, the fact that we dealt with the adversity that we did and finished the season as strongly as we did is a testament to the kind of TEAM that we were. We had the best coaches a player could ever ask for, and a group of young guys who all stuck together through thick and thin and played their hearts out. It has been the greatest honor of my life to have shared the jersey with those guys and I am still very proud to call myself a Commodore. I can only hope that this year is as special for the guys as last year was for me. Thanks for checking in on me and --- GO VANDY!!!!!!!!

GFP: Thanks again Dan, Is there anything else you'd like to say to all your Vandy friends and fans out there?
DC: I miss you all and thanks for all of your support! Keep cheering our boys on this year, as I already said.............. GO VANDY!!!!!!!!!!!

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