Interview: Bruce Elder

He was one of the best players on one of the best Vanderbilt teams in Commodore hoops history. GFP talked with former VU basketball great Bruce Elder.

GFP: Bruce thanks for talking to us what have you been up to?
BE: Well, I just took a new job back in the fall. I'm working for a small consulting firm that does assessments for investors. It's a new career for me. Before that I was working in operations and development for health care companies since I left the MBA program at Vanderbilt.

GFP: Speaking of Vanderbilt, what led you to transfer from Davidson to Vanderbilt?
BE: It was a basketball decision. I wanted to play at a higher level and have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament and win a conference championship and play against the highest level of competition I could find. Davison was great I loved it. I made some great friends. There were a lot of problems with the program and they were in a real transition time between conferences and it really hurt there scheduling and the prospects for the last three years of my career. It was a tough decision but I decided to go somewhere where I could get equal academics and get more upside with basketball.

GFP: Sounds like you don't regret it one bit.
BE: No I don't. The great thing is that I just got married not too long ago and I had two separate set of groomsmen, two were from Vanderbilt and two were from Davidson. I feel like I had two complete sets of college friends and I still have them to this day. So it worked out really well.

GFP: Who were the groomsmen?
BE: Kevin Anglin and Willie Daunic

GFP: Willie Daunic is doing really well at 104.5 here in Nashville.
BE: Willie has gotten quite a career in broadcasting now. I actually talked to him today. Kevin, Willie and I are still very close.

GFP: So it sounds like you still stay in touch with your former teammates.
BE: I do, I don't get to talk to them as much as I'd like. We had a reunion of the 1993 team two summers ago and that was great. I'd like to talk to them more often. I bump into them here and there when I'm in Nashville.

GFP: Who was the best player you played against at Vandy?
BE: Wow, that's a very tough question. You know there were three or four that stand out. Allan Houston we matched up all three years with him and even the year I sat out he was a freshman so I got to see him in his entire career. Shaq, clearly made a big impression and was a lot to deal with. There's guys that a lot of people forgot about like Calbert Cheany at Indiana who was just unbelievable. We were fortunate to play against a lot of good players. We played against Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Motumbo at Georgetown, Latrell Sprewell and Robert Horry at Alabama, and Penny Hardaway from Memphis. There were tons of good players.

GFP: Yeah that Alabama team was loaded.
BE: They had Horry, Sprewell, and James Robinson who was little younger. They had a good run of talent.

GFP: What do you think about the Commodore team this year?
BE: They are certainly exciting. Shan Foster is having a huge year. They have Ogilvy down on the inside and he gives us some good prospects for the future. They are fun to watch. They score a lot of points and have plenty of experience. They also have a good mix of inside outside so they aren't too heavily dependent on shooting jump shots all night. Obviously they've done very well. They struggled on the road, which many teams in the SEC do. They may need to do a little damage in the tournament to get a better seed.

GFP: Until we beat Tennessee we weren't getting a lot of respect.
BE: Yeah, we had won the games we were supposed to win and generally lost the ones that people thought we'd lose. We had that tough stretch of road games but they recovered. The Arkansas loss was tough. We looked to have took control of that game but Arkansas turned it on. It wasn't a bad loss but I think a lot of people are taking a "wait and see" with us.

GFP: Why is it so hard to play on Senior Night?
BE: Your are expected to win and expected to play great and have a very memorable night. It's almost hard to live up to the anticipation and emotion and concentrate on the task at hand. It's tremendously emotional. You do have this expectation to win and to play well to go out in a blaze of glory. It's really difficult. I can remember playing on Senior Night in the first half I had two points and got in foul trouble early and thinking this was going to be a disaster. We were playing UT and fortunately I had a good second half and won in overtime. It looked a little dicey for a while.

GFP: You don't want to spend Senior Night on the bench do you?
BE: No, the nightmare you want to avoid is playing poorly, getting into foul trouble and looking back on Senior Night with less than fond memories. That's what creates the additional pressure. There's pressure on your teammates because they want to send you out on a high note.

GFP: You experienced the Memorial Magic twice in Memorial Gym. In 91 Steve Grant hit the only 3 of his career in the last seconds to beat Georgia and in 1993 when Chris Lawson hit a put back at the buzzer to beat Top Ten Louisville.
BE: I happen to be standing under the basket when both of those instances. I had the best view in the house of the ball coming through the rim. I was almost in the same spot when both of those shots went in.

GFP: What is it about Memorial Gym that causes all that crazy stuff to happen?
BE: I don't know if anymore crazy stuff happens in our gym than anybody else's especially since Barry Goheen left. We hit a shot to beat Oregon a few years ago was another instance of that. We are a confident team at home. When it gets tight late we think we can win. We've been in a lot of close games because we played a lot of good competition. You mix confidence with opportunity and good things happen. Typically better-coached teams tend to keep their wits about them better than other teams do. Coach Fogler had a lot to do with that as well.

GFP: It's funny you brought up the Oregon game. My wife and I had just started dating and that was the first game I took her to see. When it was over I told her I can never bring you back because it won't be the same.
BE: You're right, it is amazing how those things happen. It's a matter of opportunity arising and people keeping their wits about them amidst all the chaos.

GFP: Your junior year Shaquille O'Neal and LSU came into town having a monster year. We held him to 10 points and beat LSU 76-69. What do you remember about playing against Shaq?
BE: I just remember how much of a presence he was. You were always conscience of where was on the floor both offensively and defensively. Anytime you drove into the lane you had to know where was. Especially defensively you had to know where he was at all times. He was such a smooth guy and moved so well. At the same time they didn't do a ton of creative things to use him effectively. He was still a little bit raw offensively and that gave us a chance.

GFP: In 1993 We beat # 8 Arkansas at home 102-89. Nolan Richardson was ejected from the game. What do you remember about that night? There was a whole lot of points scored.
BE: That was a fun game to play. That was when Corliss Williamson was a freshman I think; it was up and down, lot of pressure. They had kind of gotten away from the 40 minutes of hell but still played a lot of gambling, trapping defense. They liked to play quick. It was a high possession game. It was fun to play because there are a lot of points scored and it's up and down. There's a lot of flow to the game. I just remember we handled the pressure well. We executed well offensively. Maybe defensively we didn't' have a great night. I can just remember we dictated control of the tempo enough to play at a pace that was comfortable for us and was pretty effective.

GFP: I remember the crowd was on fire that night. It was a lot of fun.
BE: Yeah, that was a great crowd it was the beginning of the week where we had Arkansas, Georgia, then Kentucky all in a row at home.

GFP: Also that week Kentucky came in to town #1.It was another high scoring affair as we won 101-86. What did it mean to you to beat the #1 team in the country at home your senior year?
BE: That was big. That was the highlight of my career to that point. Collectively it had showed us how far we came as a team. It also showed us we could play with and beat anybody on any given night. It was a great crowd. It was everything you came to do when you come play at to Vanderbilt. You play in a big time SEC game with Kentucky with a fantastic crowd and that's what Memorial is supposed to be all about.

GFP: Earlier that year Illinois beat us convincingly in the Great Alaskan Shootout. What was going through your mind before that game? Where you excited to get a chance to avenge that loss and move on in the tournament?
BE: Yes, that was a little bit of karma and fate that we got a chance to redeem ourselves with Illinois. That was a thumping we took in Alaska in the second game. So much so that we called a team meeting after the game to talk about some things. I remember getting three fouls in the first ten minutes. That was a pretty good symbol of how the team progressed over the course of the year because we won convincingly in the tournament and it just made it all that much sweeter to do it there in the NCAAs.

GFP: The Temple Sweet Sixteen game was disappointing. It broke my heart.
BE: Yeah me too.

GFP: We led at halftime then they went on a run and had a big lead. We cut it down but still came up a little short in the end. What do you remember about that game?
BE: I remember the game went very, very fast. There were very few fouls. Temple played that zone. Both teams were using a lot of time on each possession and there weren't a lot of dead balls. It seemed like it was over before it really got going. We were up 26-20 at the half and a six-point lead in a game like that seemed like ten. We felt very good about where we were. They shot tough shots. They had Aaron McKie and Eddie Jones and both of them got going a little bit in the second half and were able to get a lead. And once they got that lead they turned up the zone. They make it very difficult to score quickly and come back. They really do a good job with that zone in the second half. We made a little run in the end but they had a freshman who was a 50% free throw shooter and he hit both ends on a 1 and 1s in a critical stretch of the game. It was very disappointing. I don't recall a ton about it just because it went so fast. We were in a spot to win it and that is what made it disappointing.

Temple is a tough team and very few people want to play in the tournament. They play a very interesting style that you don't see everyday. It was disappointing but as a whole the year turned out great. I try not to think about it that much.

GFP: What are you more proud of being 2nd team all SEC and the Sweet Sixteen in 1993 or being an Academic All-American?
BE: I guess I focused more on the on court achievements. I assumed the classroom stuff would take care of itself. I think just looking back on it the memories and the teammates and all that we accomplished on the court were the most rewarding but I came to Vandy to be a student and get an education.

GFP: Being an Academic All-American I bet it made your parents proud.
BE: Yeah, they were very excited.

GFP: Thanks Bruce, is there anything else you'd like to say to your Vanderbilt fans/friends out there?
BE: You know I hear from old classmates from time to time. I heard from one today. It's always good to hear from people you don't get to see all the time. It's great to get back to Nashville and I still have very fond memories of my time at Vanderbilt.

For more Glutton interviews please visit his blog at: http://www.vanderbiltsports.blogspot.com/


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