Hoops trio seeks redemption
Oct. 7, 2011
Just like that, Vanderbilt's season was over.
VUcommodores.com: Everybody knows about you guys on the court, but what's your relationship off the court?
Festus Ezeli: Yeah, I don't like these guys... [silence fills the room before the trio erupts in laughter] Nah, nah, shoot we're all like brothers. We motivate each other, we inspire each other, and we're here for each other. That's what we are.
Jeffery Taylor [sarcastically]: Yeah, I mean Fes usually leaves John and me out of stuff, like haircuts. But overall, we're a pretty close team.
John Jenkins: We all share something special; we all work hard. Just that trait alone keeps us together. We're a family and we're always looking out for each other and having fun with each other.
Why did the three of you decide to come back to Vanderbilt for another year?
Ezeli: The biggest thing for me was that we have a very special year coming up. It's a great school with a great coach and great program. Everything is just hard to leave.
Taylor: We've been here for three or four years together and we've had the bad moments and the good moments. For me personally, I don't think I would have dealt well with leaving everybody behind. Especially coming into this year after the tough losses we've taken in the past. I definitely want to just try and finish on a good note.
Jenkins: It would be hard for me to leave, especially being from here. I want to leave on a better note, go further in the tournament, and have an overall better season. We want to have the best team in Vanderbilt history and I wanted to be here for that.
When the season ended last year, did you talk privately before making your decisions?
Ezeli: We discussed it a little bit. It's just something where we all just kind of looked at each other and knew that there was a lot of unfinished business here. That's what it was. We all just knew.
Taylor: We spoke about it maybe once or twice, but I think the best decisions are personal, so it's not like I would try to sway anybody in any kind of way. We kind of felt the same way coming out of last season, knowing what we have the chance to do this upcoming year. We knew as competitors that it would be tough to walk away from.
Jenkins: It was kind of an understood feeling. We had some unfinished business that we wanted to take care of before any of us could think about anything else.
What's different about this year?
Ezeli: This year we're more mature. It's an older team compared to last year. We know to learn from our mistakes from the past. We're more committed; just a little bit more.
Taylor: In four years, you become wiser. The experiences that we've had, especially last season with giving up big leads in games, will serve us well this year. The maturity level and experience level is very high on this team. We've pretty much faced everything you can face.
Jenkins: We're a lot older and a lot more mature. For me personally, I feel like I've been here for a long time. It was a great feeling when the freshmen came in here this year and really listened to what we had to say. I guess I could say we're more mature and hungry.
What makes each other's game so special?
Ezeli: Jeff and John make my game a whole lot easier. Everybody talks about how much improvement I've made, but you have to give them credit, too, because their improvements have helped me out, too. They are very big threats on offense and defense. It's an easier game playing with these two guys.
Taylor: Fes is an absolute monster inside. He'll be tough for anybody to guard. He commands a lot of double teams, which also makes it easier on us to move around on offense. Fes has improved probably more than anybody in the country the past two or three years. With John, everybody knows he can shoot. He has really worked hard on his game to go off the dribble and become an all-around threat on offense. He has also improved a lot on defense so we're looking forward to seeing what big Johnny can do.
Jenkins: It's incredible how much we feed off each other on the court. A lot of that comes from how close we are off the court. When Fes or Jeff dunk, it gets everyone else going. Those traits that they have to just dominate inside and outside can drive our whole team's tempo.
You're the best at your positions in the conference. What can you improve on individually at this point in your career?
Ezeli: One area is to try and be better with all of the media attention. It's easy to get distracted. We just need to be better leaders for this team. There is a lot of talent and a lot of people that can do a lot of things, so we just need everybody to be in one direction. Leadership is one thing that we can help with.
Taylor: For me, I've tried to keep making a steady improvement on my jump shot and just staying consistent with that. I also worked a lot on my ball handling this summer.
Jenkins: I take a lot of pride in working harder than everybody else. When I was the underdog, I looked up to guys that I saw on the front of magazines and said, "I want to work harder and be better than them." Now we're kind of like that, so I'm the same way now and just want to work hard (knowing) that those guys are coming after us now. We have to continue to pick the tempo up and work harder than ever.
So what's the deal on the haircuts?
Taylor [joking]: Fes goes to the barbershop all the time and he never tells anybody.
Ezeli: Is this going on tape right now? Seriously?
Taylor: Everybody needs cuts on the team and he never takes anybody.
Ezeli: I never take anybody?
Jenkins: He took me about a month ago.
Taylor: He goes every week to get a haircut.
Ezeli [laughing]: I guess I have to do better. I guess whenever I'm leaving now I have to make sure everybody's ready because everybody wants to go. I don't know.
Anything else you want to say about this year?
Ezeli: It's going to be a fun year. I can't wait. We're just looking forward to our last go around, Jeff and me for sure, so we just got to have fun.
Jenkins: We're going to work hard. We're determined to be the best.
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