NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s been an offseason unlike any other for every college basketball program.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced all student-athletes, coaches and staff members to take extra precautions in order to keep themselves safe during a dangerous time. So when the Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball team returned to campus earlier this month to begin preseason workouts, second-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse was impressed with the way his program has handled what has become a new normal.
“We’re proud of our guys,” Stackhouse said. “They want to play basketball so they know they need to police themselves and do what we ask them to do.
“Those minor wins are huge right now. It’s an uphill battle and it’s just beginning and we know we have a lot of things ahead of us but it’s good to get off to a good start.”
Stackhouse is looking forward to a second season on West End in which the high expectations are now completely understood by his returning players, something he believes could be a key factor for success during 2020-21. Stackhouse has a quartet of upperclassmen who have all stepped into leadership roles for the program, but also a foursome of returning sophomores who all played major roles during 2019-20.
That facet takes some of the pressure off the head coach and his staff.
“You got guys at the front of the line that know why you’re doing it now,” Stackhouse said. “Instead of you teaching that guy at the front of the line how to do it, now our younger guys can get back and watch guys and know exactly what to do and how to do the drills that we do every day.
“The practices and the monotony of getting better is all in repetition, so I just think we’re going to try to continue to repeat those things and come with our same approach of working hard. Some guys have never worked this hard – they thought they were working hard, but the level that it takes to be good at this level, it takes another gear.”
— Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball (@VandyMBB) August 31, 2020
The Commodores bring back Dylan Disu, Scotty Pippen Jr., Jordan Wright and Braelee Albert, all sophomores who played major minutes and were part of major moments during the ’19-20 campaign. Forwards Clevon Brown and Ejike Obinna and guards Maxwell Evans and Isaiah Rice are back and have stepped into their upperclassmen leadership roles.
Stackhouse said whether it’s Obinna taking freshman and fellow Nigerian Akeem Odusipe under his wing or the returning walk-ons demanding more from the scholarship freshmen, it all goes into making Vandy a stronger team.
“Those little subtle things like that got a long way in helping guys adjust to the newness of being in college,” the head coach said.
Stackhouse also explained that while his returning student-athletes have a full grasp of how to perform off the court, they also now know how to work with athletic trainer Brandon Wells, strength and conditioning coach Carlos Daniel and director of sports nutrition Mary Glenn Lipman. During workouts this month Stackhouse has further recognized that the Commodores took the summer to follow through on his instructions on what to work on and how to improve before 2020-21 tips off.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just getting back to that second year knowing that we have guys that have a better understanding of what we want to have happen and it’s been showing up in the workouts,” Stackhouse said. “You can just tell that the guys that have come back, whether they’re sophomores or some of our upperclassmen, they just got a great feel for what we’re doing and how we want to play.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.