“I didn’t come back to lose,” Vandy’s junior point guard said recently. “That’s my main mindset coming back here. I want to be a tournament team this year. I think we can do that.
“The pieces we’ve added and the development we’ve had – I wouldn’t have come back if I thought we’d be a bottom-of-the-pack team.”
Pippen, one of the nation’s top players, toyed with the idea of turning to professional basketball after his sophomore campaign ended in March. But after working out for professional scouts and collecting intel on his immediate odds may be for succeeding at the highest level, the Californian decided to remain in Nashville for at least one more season.
Pippen’s 20.8 points and 4.9 assists per game from last season is a huge boost to a program that went out and stocked an already talented roster with quality depth.
Joining Pippen, senior forward Quentin Millora-Brown, junior guard Jordan Wright and sophomores Tyrin Lawrence, Myles Stute, Trey Thomas are three scholarship freshmen and four immediately-eligible Division I transfers. Stackhouse is cautiously optimistic that will lead to the best campaign yet during his tenure.
“You never want to put a real number on it but I expect us to be in the top half of our league with the pieces that we have, the continuity that we have from the guys that have been here a couple years that really understand what we’re trying to get accomplished. I’m excited about that,” he said. “They’re working hard. I feel like that’s going to be the deciding factor, how we continue to work, how we continue to jell, how we continue to buy into our new guys.”
Part of the new-look Commodores are graduate students Rodney Chatman (6-1, 215) and Liam Robbins. Chatman, who spent two seasons at Chattanooga and three at Dayton, is a high-level defender and efficient shooter while Robbins (7-foot, 250) averaged nearly three blocks per game at Minnesota as a junior while scoring 11.7 points per contest and hauling in 6.6 boards per game.
Stackhouse said Robbins is currently rehabbing an offseason injury and isn’t expected to make his debut until after the start of the 2021-22 season.
“We know what we do works. It’s just a matter of getting a little bit more familiar with it and then, obviously, adding to the talent level,” Stackhouse said. “The pieces that we brought in are collectively, to me, a lot better than the pieces that went out.”
Vanderbilt didn’t just make some changes to its roster, either. Stackhouse added veteran coaches Ed Conroy and Michael Curry to the mix to stand alongside Adam Mazerei. They’ve been charged this preseason with helping mold the newcomers with the returns while simultaneously further advancing Stackhouse’s program.
The Commodores (9-16, 3-13) are three weeks away from opening the campaign when they meet Alabama State on Nov. 10 inside Memorial Gymnasium. From that point on the end goal will remain the same – to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We want to get progressively better as the season goes on. I’m taking these nonconference games as they are. If we win our share of games that we should win at (the SEC) level then I feel like we’re a tournament team and can really get in there and make some noise because we can play a lot of different styles.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.