Russell Lakey speaks!

VandyMania chatted recently with Vanderbilt junior guard Russell Lakey. Lakey, who missed a good portion of the 2001-02 season with a foot injury, now looks back on last season as a "nightmare" for himself personally. This year he is completely recovered, and appears entrenched as the team's starting point guard. (A VandyMania exclusive.)

Q: A lot of these players that were part of your recruiting class have gotten a lot of playing time as freshmen and sophomores. Do you see the Commodores benefitting a lot from that experience this year?

A: Definitely. We also have a lot of players-- Corey Smith, Brian Thornton, David Przybyszewski-- who played a lot of minutes as freshmen last year. They know now what it takes now to win in the SEC, and plus we have Matt Freije, who's one of the best players in the SEC. He knows what it takes to win. He's going to be our leader this year.

Q: Who would you say was the most improved player on the team in the offseason?

A: I'd say David Przybyszewski. Coming from Europe, he really wasn't used to the style of play in America last year. This year he's gotten a lot stronger, quicker. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people in the league.

Q: Do you think Coach Stallings has the players he wants now to run the system that he wants?

A: Definitely. We're playing his game right now. We're trying to get the ball inside. We know that's where our bread is buttered, with Matt Frieje, Brian Thornton, David [Przybyszewski] down low. That's where we're going to get most of our baskets from. And outside, that's just extra icing to keep defenses honest. We're getting more athletic, more physical players. That's what Coach Stallings likes. We're trying to pressure the ball and rebound the ball, and that's what's going to win championships for us.

Q: Talk about what those two freshman guards bring to the team, Adam Payton and Mario Moore.

A: They add something that we really haven't had on our team, which is quickness and defensive aggressiveness. They're both great ball-handlers, slashers, penetrators. They can take it to the hole, they can dish it off and make their teammates better. That's what I think we needed. They're really going to help us.

Q: Is it going to be a little bit threatening, knowing there's a guy like Mario Moore playing behind you? I know sometimes Coach Stallings is one to sit you down sometimes when you make a mistake.

A: It's not threatening... it just makes you be a better player. You always have someone to fill in for you, and that's always good. You don't want to be the only option on your team, because today may not be your day at times. You may be off. So you need that backup who could fill in there at that position. You need that for everybody. If Freije's not doing well, we have Julian Terrell. If Brian's not doing well, we have David. That's a good thing for a championship team.

Q: What are you looking for out of yourself this year?

A: I'm just looking to step up as more of a leader and try to lead this team. Because I wasn't able to be there last year with the injury. I wasn't on the floor doing anything to help. Last year was pretty much a nightmare for me. Now I'm just trying to get back on the floor and help the team win.

Q: And what are the team's goals?

A: The main goal is to make the NCAA Tournament. We've come up short the last couple of years. In Coach's first year, he came up short. This year we have the talent, the physical strength where we have a chance to make the tournament.

Q: Could you talk a little about having to play with that injury last year, and knowing that your quickness was not all there?

A: It was very frustrating. I wasn't able to penetrate. I wasn't able to guard like I'm used to guarding. It was really a learning experience for me.

Q: What did Coach Stallings ask you to work on in the offseason?

A: He asked me to work on my shooting. We lost three of the best shooters in the SEC. I'm going to have to step up my offensive ability and take some of the pressure off of Matt Freije and Brian Thornton, so they can't double-team them down low. He also asked me to be a floor leader, just step up and be more vocal. I'm a junior. I'm no longer a freshman, so I have to step up and help lead this team.

Q: Talk about Coach Stallings' way of motivating you guys in practice. I know sometimes if you're not giving 100% in practice, he'll kind of give you "the stare."

A: His way of motivating is really by encouraging. He really doesn't expect a lot of you... he just expects you to do the things like listen, pay attention, go hard. Those are things you should expect of yourself. He's just there to try to teach, and help you get better. He knows the game. He's been around great coaches and great players his whole life. He really doesn't yell that much in practice. He's there to give instruction and try to help us get better.

Q: How do you like having a court that's so unique, like the setup at Memorial? And knowing that the first thing that opponents do is talk about how difficult it is to play there?

A: Memorial Gymnasium, I think, is the greatest gymnasium in the whole country. The whole atmosphere... the seating for the benches adds another whole aura. The Memorial Magic, I've seen it happen a couple of times. I think it's just the greatest place to play.

Q: I see you're studying Economics. What do you hope to do with that?

A: Hopefully I'm going to go to law school and become a lawyer. Maybe Entertainment Law, something along those lines.

Q: You're originally from California, a long way away. Has coming to Vanderbilt been a good decision for you?

A: Definitely. I couldn't imagine myself playing anywhere else. This has been the best experience I've had in my life so far. Top Stories