Bruce Elder (1991-93) was a prominent member of the 1993 Vanderbilt SEC championship team. Elder went to high school in Marietta, GA., and played his freshmen season at Davidson after choosing the Wildcats over Stanford, Furman, Tennessee and South Carolina. He led Davidson in scoring (17.2) that season, but decided to transfer after one year while missing 11 games due to an injury.
“Davidson really struggled as a team,” Elder said recently from his Atlanta home. “On top of that, Davidson was an Independent going through a transition to conference affiliation and the future was somewhat in doubt.
“After my freshman year, I felt that I understood college better and saw an opportunity to have the same academics at a bigger school. There would be more opportunities from a basketball standpoint. I chose Vanderbilt for a lot of the same reasons as Davidson. It was a similar distance from home, great academics and I hit it off with the guys on the team. I really liked Coach [Eddie] Fogler when I met him.”
Davidson would go on to join the Big South Conference while Elder had to sit out a redshirt season per NCAA transfer rules. The Commodores were 21-14 (7-11 SEC), but won the NIT Tournament in New York with seniors Eric Reid and Derrick Wilcox. Victories came over Louisiana Tech, Tennessee, New Orleans, Penn State and Saint Louis.
“It was a long year,” Elder said. “We had a lot of ups and downs. We had a seven-game losing streak and an eight-game winning streak. We also had some exciting times especially in the NIT run. It was tough practicing and not being able to play or travel.”
“Transferring in and making the transition to a new school was an adjustment. There was a lot to get through, but it ended on a high note and coming out of that spring I felt like I was in a much better place.”
In Elder’s first year of eligibility as a sophomore, the Commodores were 17-13 (11-7 SEC) and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The small forward started all 30 games while averaging 11. 3 points per game and led the team in rebounding (5.9) and steals (46). Elder was also named to the SEC All-Academic Team.
“This was what I came for,” Elder said. “It was fantastic. We played in big games in front of big crowds. There was a lot at stake and that was what I wanted to experience. I was enjoying school and really enjoyed the competition. It certainly exceeded my expectations.
“We lost in the first round in the NCAA Tournament to Georgetown [70-60]. That was quite a game. They made it difficult to get good shots. We really had to work for our shots and their big guys [Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo] were good on defense inside the lane. I wish the outcome could’ve been different. I felt we played well, but not great. Offensively, they changed our approach somewhat to what we could do in the lane.”
As a junior the Commodores slipped to 15-15 (6-10 SEC) and lost in the first round of the NIT to Rhode Island. Elder started all 30 games and ranked second on the team in scoring (12.4) and assists (3.5), while also leading the team in blocked shots (26). He scored a career-high 25 points against Mississippi State. During the season, Elder was a tri-captain with junior Kevin Anglin and senior Todd Milholland.
Also in that season, the Commodores had to face another future NBA Hall of Famer in LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal. Vandy won the game 76-69 in Memorial Gym. O’Neal was limited to 10 points.
“That was quite an experience,” Elder said. “That was the highlight from that year being able to compete against them with Shaq. He was much like Mutombo and Mourning, who can change the complexion of the game, particularly on the defensive end. He was still finding his offensive game, but we spent a lot of time
Joining the Commodores that season as practice players were transfers Billy McCaffrey (Duke) and Chris Lawson (Indiana), who redshirted due to NCAA rules.
“We were very excited about them the day they signed and until they started playing,” said Elder. “We knew we were going to be a better team with them. We could only speculate about how good Billy was going to be. I was looking forward going into my last year after watching them in practice when they redshirted. We knew what they could do and the potential.”
The next season would be historic one for Vanderbilt basketball with the school’s third SEC championship (14-2) and a record for wins (28). The Commodores defeated No. 9 Louisville, No. 8 Arkansas and No. 1 Kentucky throughout the course of the season.
“That was a special year where we avoided injuries and came together with the pieces that had been there,” said Elder. “We had Billy, Chris and also Frank Seckar as a freshman who played meaningful minutes. We found our rhythm in early January and really played well into February.
“We had those big home wins, but just as meaningful were close tough road wins like Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn and the list goes on that year. We were able to get things done on the road and win the title outright, which hadn’t been done in a long time. Looking back, that was one of the most exciting times in my life.”
In the Arkansas game at Memorial Gym, Razorback coach Nolan Richardson was ejected from the game early in the second half after drawing a second technical foul.
“We were certainly pleased to be winning the game,” said Elder. “When a coach gets kicked out it, detracts from the game itself. It takes the attention away from the players and what happens on the floor. It made it more about the coaches and the referees. We preferred that those things not happen, but by the same token when you’ve got the coach and their team that frustrated you know, you are doing something right.”
The Commodores beat Boise State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by a score of 92-72, followed by a win over Illinois (85-68) and loss to Temple (67-59) in the Sweet 16.
“That was a very exciting time to get the win over Illinois who beat us badly in the second game of the year,” Elder said. “There was a sense of closure in that. Temple was very disappointing. We had a lead at halftime and in position to win the game, but just didn’t get it done. We had dry spell in the second half and couldn’t generate enough offense to win the game. That was very disappointing, but at the same time I look back on the whole season and consider it a very rewarding year.”
What about having Fogler as his coach for three seasons? “In the context of practice and games he was fairly business like,” said Elder. “We were there to win games and try to do things the right way. Coach Fogler has a great sense of humor--very dry, very witty. I think he treated us fairly and treated us well. Off the court, he was always an advocate trying to help us in any way he could.”
“He encouraged us as students and wanted us to do the right thing on and off the court. He embraced our families and got to know our parents and respected them. There was certainly another side of him off the court like there are with most coaches. We had a great relationship with him and still do today.”
Elder said he really enjoyed playing in Memorial Gym. “I wouldn’t trade it for literally anywhere in the country,” said Elder. “We had incredible fan support my entire time at Vanderbilt. It was packed almost every game. It was loud and it was fun. It was a great home court advantage. We took advantage of that and defended our home court well – the crowd was a big part of that.”
Elder played in all 34 games averaging 11.4 points per game and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds on his way to being honored as Second Team All-SEC. He is a member of the 1000-point club (1,086), an Academic All-American and was an SEC All-Academic for all three seasons at Vanderbilt.
Elder was drafted in the second round of the USBL by Atlanta, but decided against a professional basketball career at any level. After graduation, Elder entered the health care industry and remained in Nashville for six years. He relocated to Atlanta in 1999 and has lived there since.
Elder was selected as Vanderbilt’s “SEC Legend” in 2015. Said Elder, “That was quite an honor. Brock Williams [Vanderbilt Associate AD for basketball] called me, and I told him he must be short on legends. I was able to bring my wife and daughter. My daughter got a kick out of it.”
Elder was asked about being a former Vanderbilt basketball player and graduate. “It was very meaningful, rewarding and an exciting time of my life,” Elder said. “College is a great experience. Adding the highlights I had in my basketball career to that was a ton of fun and prepared me well for life after school. I was taught how to be successful and to work hard. I learned the discipline needed to be a good student and athlete.
“All that carries with you in life, but I go back to the relationships of which I maintain today. The thing I look back on the most that the public doesn’t see is the relationships with teammates up and down the line. That is what most players look back on that was the most meaningful to them.”
If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.