NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Tuesday, the Southeastern Conference announced its preseason media poll.
Vanderbilt was picked to finish 14th out of 14 teams. No Commodore made the preseason first or second all-conference team.
Cause for concern or call for confidence?
“I love it. I love being last. I love being the underdog,” Vanderbilt sophomore guard Aaron Nesmith said. “I love proving people wrong every day. It’s just how I am, how I’m built. I love going out game by game and turning it around.”
Nesmith is one of seven returning players from a team that won just nine games in 2018-19. The Commodores went 0-18 in SEC play and have lost 20 straight league games dating back to the 2017-18 season.
They’ve also dropped 20 in a row overall, a streak they’ll look to break Nov. 6 when Southeast Missouri State comes to Memorial Gymnasium for the 2019-20 season-opener.
First-year coach Jerry Stackhouse isn’t worried about preseason polls or who is coming up on the schedule or long losing streaks or the previous year’s record. He’s worried about making sure his locker room keeps its focus in-house.
“I think for us it’s always been about us,” he said. “I told our guys it’s about us and what we put into it is what we’ll get out of it.”
Stackhouse came to West End after one year as an assistant coach with Memphis in the NBA and two years as the head coach of Toronto 905 in the G League. The former NBA All-Star and All-America selection at North Carolina undoubtedly has a tough task ahead in returning Vandy to its winning ways.
And while it’s no surprise that the Dores were picked to finish last in the always-tough SEC, don’t expect Stackhouse to use that as motivation for the next six months.
“I got an email the other day that said the media picked us last. Who is that good for? For us, it’s motivation, but once you get over that hurdle, what’s the next motivation?” he said. “We got some things to prove and I think we’re up to the challenge of trying to prove those things – but that can’t be your crying call forever.
“Once you get out of that, now what’s your motivation to come in and approach your work and do your job and be accountable to where you’re supposed to from that point on?”
Along with Nesmith, Stackhouse will look to senior Clevon Brown and juniors Saben Lee, Maxwell Evans and Matthew Moyer to lead his team into the 2019-20 campaign. That group, along with six newcomers, has been learning the Stackhouse way for the past few weeks as anticipation grows for the start of the season.
Stackhouse said he and his staff will spend the next handful of days at practice continuing to install offenses and defenses while fine-tuning end-of-game and late-game situations. Then it will be time to take the floor where they hope to string wins together in front of a full house.
“Their buy-in is what I’m most concerned about,” Stackhouse said of his team. “When they buy in with what we’re trying to do and we’re able to have to have some success I’m pretty sure the followers will come.”