Historical highlights in VU men's basketball

Jan. 20, 2010

  1927 Vanderbilt Basketball team

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Vanderbilt has been playing varsity basketball ever since 1893. On February 7, 1893 Vanderbilt became the first college to participate in a basketball game. That contest was a 9-6 Commodore victory over the Nashville YMCA. The following are more highlights of significant and historical moments in Vanderbilt basketball:

Vanderbilt began to play basketball seriously as a university team sport with a four-game schedule in 1900-01. The first recorded win that season at Vanderbilt came in its second game against the Nashville YMCA, 24-9. Coach W. D. Weatherford's club was 2-2 with two wins over the Nashville YMCA and a pair of losses to the Nashville YMCA and the Nashville Athletic Club.

In February 1902, Vanderbilt took its first road trip. Traveling by train to Birmingham, the Commodores faced Howard College and the local Athletic Club. The Birmingham gym was an old warehouse where the baskets were nailed too close to the ceiling. When a shot was attempted with a long arc, the ball would hit the ceiling and fall to the floor. Vandy couldn't adapt in time and lost that game to Howard 33-23, but rebounded (pun intended) with wins over Howard and the Birmingham Athletic Club.

The 1904-05 season was cancelled by the Vanderbilt administration. It was announced that the school's gymnasium was being occupied too much by basketball therefore interfering with gymnastics. There were no other campus facilities for the basketball team to practice. Basketball at Vanderbilt resumed in 1906 and continues today without interruption.

Vanderbilt had been playing its game and practicing at the Old Gym that still exists on the campus today. The cramp building would not allow for large crowds so an alternate site was secured. In 1908, Vanderbilt began playing at the Hippodrome, which was primarily an ice skating rink. The Hippodrome could be transformed for basketball, boxing, indoor baseball, track and non-sporting events.

In 1907, Vanderbilt played its first intersectional games in Nashville against Columbia and Yale. The Commodores lost both games 34-16 and 27-23. The Commodores would begin playing in these early years distant road games such as Mobile, New Orleans, Chicago and New York.

World War I would interrupt Vanderbilt's progression in basketball with students joining the armed services to fight in Europe. When the war ended, Vanderbilt settled in and won their first championship in 1919-20 with a 14-4 record. Vanderbilt was a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They defeated teams like Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Vanderbilt first played the University of Tennessee during the 1921-22 season. The Commodores lost both games in Knoxville 20-5 and 16-15. The following year the Commodores beat the Vols for the first time 28-25 also in Knoxville.

During the early 1920's the SIAA was dissolved and Vanderbilt became a member of the Southern Conference. Vanderbilt (20-4) won the 1927 Southern Conference championship with former Commodore football great Josh Cody as the coach. The Commodores swept the postseason tournament with victories over Washington and Lee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia.

Vanderbilt broke away from the Southern Conference and became a charter member of the new Southeastern Conference in 1932. The Commodores finished that season 14-8 (11-5 SEC) for third place in the league.

Vanderbilt's first "star" player was Brant "Pinky" Lipscomb (1938-39). The former David Lipscomb Junior College player transferred to Vanderbilt bringing his left-handed running hook to the Commodores. Lipscomb was twice named to the SEC All-Tournament team setting several shooting records. Adolph Rupp once proclaimed that Lipscomb was one of the best players to face his Kentucky teams.

During the 1943-44 years Vanderbilt played an informal schedule due to World War II. Former Nashville Vice-Mayor David Scobey (1943, 45) transferred to Vanderbilt from David Lipscomb and starred for the Black and Gold.

A turning point in Vanderbilt basketball occurred during the 1947 SEC Tournament. The Commodores were shelled by powerful Kentucky, 98-29. This disaster prompted Vanderbilt athletics director and football coach, Red Sanders, to hire a full-time basketball-only head coach. Soon plans were made for scholarships and a new on-campus gymnasium.

Billy Joe Adcock (1948-50) became Vanderbilt's first basketball scholarship player. Adcock was also the school's first All-American and first All-SEC player. During the 1947-48 season, Adcock was the first Commodore to lead the SEC in scoring with a 17.1 average. Adcock ranks 27th on the Commodores all-time scoring list with 1,190 points leading the team in scoring in each of his three season at Vanderbilt.

Bob Polk was an assistant at Georgia Tech when he became Vanderbilt's first full-time basketball-only head coach. Polk would coach the Commodores from 1948-61 with time off (1959-60) to recover from a heart attack. Polk ranks third all-time in coaching wins (197-106) in 13 seasons. One of the applicants for that vacant Vanderbilt coaching position that Polk received was a young coach at Indiana State--John Wooden (later of UCLA fame).

In the early Bob Polk era, Vanderbilt was playing home games in area high schools, David Lipscomb College's McQuiddy Gymnasium and the Navy Classification Center on Thompson Lane. Larry Munson was broadcasting Commodore basketball games on WKDA Radio on a taped delayed basis.

Polk's first scholarship recruiting class included Dave Kardokus (Evansville, Ind.), Gene Southwood (Evansville, Ind.), Jack Heldman (Jasper, Ind.) and Bob Dudley Smith from Nashville. The recruits played for Vanderbilt three years from 1950-52.

Under the guidance of Polk and captain George Kelly, Vanderbilt won the 1951 SEC Tournament with a 61-57 upset win over Kentucky. Legend says that the name "Kentucky" was already inscribed on the championship trophy before the Commodores' victory. This is the only SEC Tournament championship for Vanderbilt including the modern era.

Memorial Gymnasium hosted its first game on the Vanderbilt campus with a 90-83 win over Virginia. Only 11 seconds into the game, Commodore Dan Finch scored the first points in the gymnasium with a pair of free throws. Moments later Finch scored a lay-up to record the first field goal. George Nordhaus recorded a game-high 18 points for Vanderbilt.

In 1956, Vanderbilt secured its home schedule with the first undefeated season at Memorial Gymnasium with a 13-0 record. Other undefeated home games came in 1961 (13-0), 1965 (14-0), 1967 (14-0) and 1993 (14-0). Entering the 2009-10 season, Vanderbilt has a Memorial Gymnasium all-time record of 683-187 (.785) in 57 seasons.

The 1961 SEC championship belonged to Mississippi State. But the Mississippi State Legislature prohibited the Bulldogs to attend the NCAA tournament due to the presence of black players participating on northern teams. Both Vanderbilt and Kentucky finished second (10-4) in the standings so a playoff game in Knoxville was established. Kentucky won the contest, 88-67. Kentucky would be the SEC representative to the national tournament that year.

With Polk's retirement, assistant Roy Skinner becomes Vanderbilt's next head basketball coach in 1962. Skinner (1959,1962-76) would go on to become Vanderbilt's all-time winningest coach in Commodore history. He won two SEC championships with a record of 278-135 in 16 years and four SEC Coach of the-Year honors.

In 1965, Vanderbilt won its first SEC championship recording a 24-4 (15-1 SEC) slate. With Skinner leading, the Commodores advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight falling to Michigan, 87-85. Clyde Lee, John Ed Miller and Bob "Snake" Grace would be a part of one of Vanderbilt's most memorable and remarkable teams.

Lee (1964-66), a Nashville David Lipscomb high school star, leaves Vanderbilt after becoming an All-American and the school's all-time leading scorer (presently ranks sixth with 1, 691 points). Lee, a two-time SEC Player of the Year, would lead the SEC in rebounding for three seasons. Lee stills holds Vanderbilt's rebounding records in three categories.

One of the first official mascots for Vanderbilt was a basset hound named George in the 1960's. The dog was originally a pet of former Commodore football player Toby Wilt. It was said George's front paws pointed in opposite directions. George received a home from an anonymous member of the Board of Trust, which was taken to all the basketball and football games.

The color barrier in the Southeastern Conference is broken with Vanderbilt's signing of Nashville Pearl High School's Perry Wallace. Wallace became the league's first black scholarship player in the 1967-68 season. After enduring threats and racial slurs on the road, Wallace was voted Vanderbilt's most popular student as a senior. Wallace is currently a law professor at American University in Washington, D. C. The university has retired his uniform number.

Vanderbilt All-American, Tom Hagan (1967-69), averaged 23.4 points per games in his career. On March 8, 1969, Hagan scored 44 points against Mississippi State to set the single-game scoring record for a Commodore. The record remains today.

On December 22, 1970, Vanderbilt beat Mississippi in Memorial Gymnasium, 130-112. The game produced the most points in a game for the Commodores in their history. The record is also a Southeastern Conference record (two SEC teams) for total points in a game. And this was before the 3-point rule.

Vanderbilt wins its second SEC championship in 1974 with SEC Player-of-the-Year Jan van Breda Kolff leading the way. The Commodores secured a 23-5 (15-3 SEC) record with Skinner being awarded his third of four SEC Coach of the Year recognition. Vanderbilt lost to Marquette, 69-61 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

  F-Troop (left to right): Jeff Fosnes, Joe Ford
and Butch Feher.

The famed F-Troop played their final year in a Vanderbilt uniform in 1973-74. Joe Ford, Butch Feher and Jeff Fosnes became one of the most popular and productive class in Vanderbilt history. Fosnes would become the university's initial first team Academic All-American.

In 1981, Charles Davis and Mike Rhodes played their final season for the Commodores. Rhodes and Davis battled for the most career points in Commodore history. Rhodes erased Clyde Lee's record (1,691) totaling 1,699 points. Davis scored 1,675 career points which is currently eighth all-time.

Phil Cox scored his 1, 724th career point to become Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer in 1985. Cox currently ranks third to Shan Foster (2,011) and Matt Freije (1,891). Cox led the Commodores in free throw percentage in three of his four years. In 1983, Cox hit 43 consecutive free throws, which is third all-time in the SEC and a Vanderbilt record.

Under the guidance of coach C.M. Newton (1982-89), the 1987-88 Commodores are selected to the NCAA Tournament after a fourth-place SEC finish. Will Perdue, Barry Goheen and Barry Booker led the Commodores to the Sweet 16 with wins over Utah State and Pittsburgh. Vanderbilt fell to eventual national champs Kansas, 77-64. In his eight years leading the Commodores, Newton was 129-115 with two SEC Coach of the Years awards.

In 1990, first-year coach Eddie Fogler led Vanderbilt to its only NIT championship. The Commodores defeated Louisiana Tech, Tennessee, New Orleans, Penn State and St. Louis. Scott Draud was named the tournament's MVP.

Billy McCaffrey led the 1992-93 Commodores to its third all-time SEC championship (14-2) and another appearance in the Sweet 16. Vanderbilt set a school record with 28 victories with the help of Bruce Elder, Chris Lawson, Dan Hall and Kevin Anglin. McCaffrey was named an All-American while Eddie Fogler was SEC and National Coach of the Year. Fogler was 81-48 in his four years at Vanderbilt.

Former Vanderbilt basketball player Jan van Breda Kolff became Vanderbilt's next coach. His first-year record of 20-12 was the best record for percentage in a Commodore's coach's inaugural season. Vanderbilt lost in the championship game of the NIT to Villanova, 80-73.

In 1995, Ronnie McMahan concluded his career at Vanderbilt just six points shy of Phil Cox's all-time scoring record. He now ranks fourth with 1,719 points. McMahan did leave as the school's all-time 3-point shooter with 296 treys passing Scott Draud. The record was broken by Shan Foster (367) in 2008.

In 1996, Vanderbilt recorded an 18-14 mark to be ousted from the NIT in the second round. Earlier in the year the Commodores upset UCLA in the Maui Invitational Tournament. The following years Vanderbilt made it to the NCAA Tournament and the second round of the NIT. Key players in the van Breda Kolff era were Frank Seckar, Malik Evans, Howard Pride, Drew Maddux, Billy Di Spaltro, Austin Bates and Vince Ford. Van Breda Kolff's six-year record was 104-81.

Kevin Stallings from Illinois State became the next Vanderbilt coach in 2000. Stallings took a 1999 team that finished 14-15 to a 19-11 record and an NIT berth. Senior forward Dan Langhi is named SEC Player of the Year after averaging 22.1 points per game.

In 2004, Vanderbilt advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Matt Freije (1,891) concluded his Vanderbilt career as the university's all-time leading scorer at the time. They advanced to the Sweet 16 finishing the season with a 23-10 record.

Vanderbilt followed that season with a 20-14 mark advancing to the NIT quarterfinals, another Sweet 16 appearance at 22-12 in 2007 where Stallings earned SEC Coach of the Year honors. Derrick Byars was selected SEC Player of the Year. The 2008 Commodores were 26-8 losing in the first round of the NCAAs. Shan Foster becomes Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer with 2,011 points.

The 2009 Commodores did not have a single senior on the team. Sophomore A.J. Ogilvy made second team All-SEC while Jeffery Taylor made the SEC All-Freshmen team.

Other key players in the Stallings era include Dan Langhi, Greg LaPointe, Chuck Moore, Russell Lakey, Scott Hundley, Dan Cage, Julian Terrell, Mario Moore, Alex Gordon, Ross Neltner and Jermaine Beal.

With last Saturday's Commodores' victory at South Carolina, Stallings all-time record is 203-131. Stallings is in his 10th season at Vanderbilt.

Entering the 2009-10 season, Vanderbilt has an all-time record of 1, 423-1, 015 (.584). Vanderbilt has participated in the NCAA Tournament 11 years with a record of 9-11. The Commodores have also been involved in 10 NIT's with a record of 18-10.

Vanderbilt has had seven players named as SEC Player of the Year with Clyde Lee, Jan van Breda Kolff, Will Perdue, Billy McCaffrey, Dan Langhi, Derrick Byars and Shan Foster. The nine All-Americans have been Billy Joe Adcock, Clyde Lee, Tom Hagan, Jan van Breda Kolff, Will Perdue, Billy McCaffrey, Matt Freije, Derrick Byars and Shan Foster.

In the coaching history, Vanderbilt list 26 head coaches with Roy Skinner, Kevin Stallings, Bob Polk, C.M. Newton, and Jan van Breda Kolff the top five winningest.

The all-time stats career leaders include Points: Shan Foster (2, 011); Rebounds: Clyde Lee (1,223); Free Throws: Bob Thym (453); Three-pointers: Shan Foster (367); Assists: Atiba Prater (517); Steals: Drew Maddux and Frank Seckar (214); Blocks: Will Perdue (157).

Other great players to contribute to Vanderbilt's history are Bill Depp, Al Rochelle, Bo Wyenandt, Thorpe Weber, Keith Thomas, Willie "Hutch" Jones, Terry Compton, Tommy Springer, Jeff Turner, Frank Kornet and Corey Smith. And so many others not named that have contributed to the Vanderbilt basketball history.

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email at WLTraughber@aol.com.



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