Outside the walls of Memorial Gymnasium, very little expectations were placed on Vanderbilt's 1992-93 men's basketball team. The Commodores were coming off a 15-15 season and were projected in the preseason to finish no better than fifth in the SEC.
But internally, the expectations were much, much different. Vanderbilt returned four of five starters, had strong senior leadership in co-captains Kevin Anglin and Bruce Elder and welcomed transfers Chris Lawson (Indiana) and Billy McCaffrey (Duke) to the team after having to sit out the season before. After transferring, Lawson and McCaffrey spent the 1991-92 season practicing with the team. It didn't take members of the team long to realize that they were two of the best players on the team and would help immediately.
"We had the benefit of seeing those guys at practice all year," Elder said. "We knew what they could do. We knew we came back with a lot of depth and then two really important new additions were added to the mix."
"I actually vividly remember the excitement for the season," Anglin recalled. "It was almost like as soon as the 91-92 year ended, there was almost immediate excitement about the next year. We knew that we were going to have all hands on deck and all the bullets in the gun."
With a full set of resources to work with, Vanderbilt's 1992-93 squad found immediate success under the guidance of Head Coach Eddie Fogler. The team won 11 of its first 12 games with an explosive starting lineup that featured McCaffrey and Ronnie McMahan at guard, Anglin and Elder at forward and Lawson at center. The lineup was so successful that the same starting five started every game that season. It was an undersized lineup with Lawson at 6-foot-9 as the only true post player. The next tallest starter was the 6-foot-5 Elder. What the Commodores lacked in height, they more than made up for in smarts, toughness and ability.
At all times, Vanderbilt's lineup featured four players capable of consistently knocking down three-pointers, and it was evident by the results. Vanderbilt averaged 83.0 points per game and scored the most points in school history.
Vanderbilt's 11-1 start was highlighted by a last-second win on a putback by Lawson against No. 9 Louisville and a season-opening trip to the Great Alaska Shootout, where the Commodores won two out of three games, falling to Illinois in the second game of the season.
After opening conference season with a, 76-73, win against Alabama, the Commodores would lose two straight road games in what was the team's longest losing streak of the season. The first loss came against a Memphis-led Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway team by six and it was followed by a controversial finish at Florida in which Stacey Poole hit a shot at the buzzer to lift the Gators.
However, the Commodores rebounded the very next game and stomped No. 1 Kentucky, 101-86, at Memorial Gym. Two games later, Vanderbilt followed the win by defeating No. 9 Arkansas, 102-89. Vanderbilt's only other conference loss that season would come to Kentucky in Lexington (82-67).
The two teams remained tied atop the SEC standings until Feb. 24 when the Commodores won an overtime game at Georgia, 87-83. Not long before the Commodores had finished off the Bulldogs, Kentucky had fallen by one point at Tennessee, 78-77. Vanderbilt's win, coupled with Kentucky's loss, gave the Commodores sole possession of first place with three games to go.
Vanderbilt took care of business from that point on, winning at Mississippi State, returning home for Senior Night to rally past Tennessee in overtime, 90-82, after trailing by 10 points in the first half, and defeating South Carolina on the road, 77-73, in the regular-season finale. Vanderbilt clinched at least a share of the SEC title by knocking off Tennessee and won in outright by outpacing South Carolina.
When it was all said and done, the Commodores had claimed their third all-time SEC regular season title and first since 1974 after posting a 14-2 mark in league play. Vanderbilt went on and advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to Temple, 67-59. Vanderbilt finished the year ranked No. 8 in the country with a 28-6 record - which remains the most wins in school history.
"We had good players and a good team, and when you have guys play together and the chemistry is right, it is amazing what you can accomplish," Lawson said.
Individually, all five starters averaged in double figures with McCaffrey leading the charge at 20.6 points per game. McCaffrey earned first team All-America honors and Anglin and Elder were each tabbed second team All-SEC. Elder was also the NCAA Academic All-American of the Year. (Note: McCaffrey was not able to be reached for this story.)
It has been 20 years since that historic season on West End, and to commemorate the accomplishment, VUCommodores.com took a stroll down memory lane, speaking with a number of members of that team, to provide an inside look at the many memorable moments from that year.
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I. There is no "I" in Team
"It didn't seem like it mattered to anybody who did what as long as we won the game."
Kevin Anglin (senior guard): I never really experienced bad chemistry on any of the teams that I was on at Vanderbilt, but this team was closer and I think shared sort of a vision of what we wanted to be and what we could be, and shared an unselfishness about wanting to get there.
Dan Hall (junior forward): What I think was special about it was that we were a team. It didn't seem like it mattered to anybody who did what as long as we won the game. We had a lot of players who could score and we had several role players who weren't afraid to do their job and just do the work that needed to be done for us to win.
Bryan Milburn (sophomore forward): Now that I am in coaching myself, one of the things that we always talk about is having good chemistry and guys getting along and I think our guys in 1993 were probably about as close knit of a team as we could be.
Eddie Fogler (head coach): Really, I think the real key was that we had great leadership. We had focus and guys in the locker room who spoke up if necessary and really made my job pretty easy. They let me coach and not have to worry about off court stuff or in the locker room stuff. If you asked me one word that would describe why we were such a great team, it was: leadership. Our older guys really got it. They were focused, they were determined and they were tough and they were team-oriented. It was a great group, it really was.
Chris Lawson (junior center): We had very defined roles from Coach Fogler and the chemistry was great. Everyone knew what we were supposed to do. Obviously, we were well-coached, but I just think the chemistry was good. Everything just seemed to fit.
Anglin: And that is part of the reason it worked because people were not worried about whose name was in the paper and who outsiders were attributing all the success to. We all knew and appreciated that everyone was a part of it and were doing things that were critical and important to the success of the team.
Lawson: I don't think we were the most talented team, but when you think of the definition of team, I think we fit it very well. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do and we executed extremely well. It was really a family and everybody enjoyed everybody and it was a very good atmosphere to be in. Everything just clicked.
Ronnie McMahan (sophomore guard): It seemed like the perfect storm for us to have an opportunity to be successful. We had the right pieces to the puzzle that Coach Fogler wanted to lay out for us. We could all score, we could all defend, we could all pass. We could do a little bit of everything. It just enabled us to go out and play the game the way we were all comfortable doing, and we each brought our unique talent to the table and it just turned into a success for us.
Frank Seckar (freshman guard): I think it was just one of those years where everything went right. I don't remember anybody really getting injured, from my recollection, anyway. Every close game we just made the right plays down the stretch to win.
Bruce Elder (senior forward): I think we were probably good enough defensively and rebounded just enough to get by. In addition to knowing how to play and having that experience, we were skilled, we had a lot of guys who could pass, catch and shoot, and then we knew how to win close games. We were good free throw shooters down the stretch. We did well in in-game situations and that's why we won a lot of close games.
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II. They Could Be Mistaken for a Team at the YMCA When Entering the Arena
"When you look at the team picture, it is the not the most imposing group of guys."
Fogler: I kid Chris Lawson all the time that we had a starting center that could hardly jump over the foul line, but he could really play and was tough as nails.
Lawson: I'll be the first to admit that I was not the greatest athlete. We weren't going to pass the eye test or the athletic test when we walked onto the floor.
Anglin: When you look at the team picture, it is not the most imposing group of guys. People would not believe it today if we walked out there with a starting lineup of four guys 6-foot-5 and under and one big guy. It is one of those teams and you look at the team picture and go, 'those guys look terrible.'
Lawson: It was a group effort and it is baffling sometimes to think back to how small we really were when you think back to the teams we were playing that were 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 across the back line.
Milburn: Usually, defensive rebounding was a liability if we got against better teams, just because we were a little bit undersized.
Fogler: We didn't have shot blocking around the rim. We weren't an overpowering team because we didn't have great size, but boy we were smart, tough, could shoot it, play unselfishly and could really guard, as long as we could keep the ball away from the basket.
Milburn: Looking back, when you think about personnel and think of Kentucky and Arkansas at the time, I don't think we had as much talent as some teams in the league, but our talent was not bad either.
Anglin: Yet, people who remember that team understand how skilled and smart that team was. We had five guys who could really pass it and catch it and shoot it and move, and could guard bigger than they were.
Fogler: We had a really good team, but we weren't a dominating team because we didn't have great inside scoring, so on a given night, particularly on the road - it is always hard on the road - I knew we would have some close games.
Milburn: We ran a motion offense that did not have very much posting up. I think our motion was difficult for teams to guard at times.
Elder: We had four perimeter players who could pass, catch and shoot, and then Chris, who was very crafty on the post and could also step out and make 15-footers. We had a pretty high skill level and we could spread people out, and people didn't want to zone us because we had multiple shooters. That is what kind of made us hard to guard.
Chris Woods (sophomore center): The post wasn't so much of a focus of the offense. We were more screeners and rebounders in the offense helping set up some double screens for guards to come off of in the offense. We had some guards that were great shooters in the offense and I know Billy had a great season. I think Billy shot over 50 percent from three that season, so we had some guards who could fill it up.
Hall: Other than Lawson, who was a good shooter in how own right, everyone out there could fill it up and get 20 or 30 on you any night. Most of the time, I was the first guy off the bench, which gave us options because I could come in and play Chris' position or I could come in for any guard and we could rotate.
Elder: We knew how to play and I think people found us difficult to guard in man because our ability to spread you out and screen you or break you down off the dribble.
Milburn: When we were on when running our motion offense, running a lot of flair screens, we were pretty good when we were making shots.
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III. No Ordinary Coaching Staff
"You had guys from different backgrounds, yet each of them knew exactly where they could help our team, and get the point across to each player."
Hall: Our coaching staff had a role pretty much like a team. Coach Fogler, who has as much basketball knowledge of anyone I've known in my life, was the ringleader. Then you had Coach (Rick) Callahan, who was the 5-foot-6 big-man coach, who was the screamer and the motivator, and then Coach (Neil) Dougherty coaching the guards and Coach (Jeff) Lebo coaching the guards.
Milburn: I think our success clearly is a result of the efforts and preparation of the coaching staff. We had a high-caliber coaching staff on the team and I think the staff themselves got along very well.
Elder: It was a great staff. There was a lot of fun between them and between us.
McMahan: The staff was very unique. You had guys from different backgrounds, yet each of them knew exactly where they could help our team, and get the point across to each player.
Woods: Rick Callahan coached the big men and he was the shortest big man coach I've had. But he did a great job with us.
McMahan: Coach Callahan was from New York and was a gruff guy, but he cared about us a tremendous amount and it showed in his passion for the game.
Milbun: Sadly, Neil Dougherty actually passed away just recently. Coach D, I feel like, he was very popular among the guys. I think he was a top-notch assistant coach.
McMahan: Neil Dougherty was really close to myself and Chris Woods and Malik Evans. Yet, he was still able to communicate well with Kevin or Bruce or Billy. I grew up watching Coach Lebo at UNC and for him to join the staff, he was very young and just coming on. His energy and his life was felt in our practice everyday.
Hall: Those guys were really good at dealing with the players and the X's and the O's, but it all boils down to Coach Fogler. He always had a game plan and he stuck to it. Obviously, for the most part it worked.
Malik Evans (redshirt sophomore forward): From my first year at Vanderbilt, I always remember that Fogler had really good game plans. 'If you all do this, this and this, we win. If you all do all this and we lose, the loss is on me.' It was usually something that we did wrong if lost.
Elder: Coach Fogler's approach to chemistry was very good. He obviously preached unselfishness and being team oriented, so that was always there since the day he walked in the door. As far as letting the chemistry develop, he would really leave it to the seniors and the more experienced guys to really have that be a player-led thing.
Evans: Coach Fogler - he was really good at preparing us for the opponent. His game plan was always on point. Out of the 28 wins, all 28 probably were because we ran his game plan to perfection.
McMahan: Coach Fogler had the credibility that was needed. He had the insight and he could speak to us on a number of levels when it just didn't have to involve basketball.
Woods: You had some very talented and experienced teams in the league and I thought there was no question that we maximized the talent that we had, and coaching staff we had did a great job of maximizing what we had as a group, collectively.
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IV. Strong Leadership Paved the Way for Historical Season
"It is easy to say you have leadership, but it is hard to get that quality and kind of leadership that that team provided the coaching staff."
Fogler: I couldn't think of having two better leaders than Kevin and Bruce. And as they live their lives today, they haven't changed. They are very successful, hard working, team oriented, give back to the community type of guys. Really, it was so much easier to do a hard job called coaching when you have leadership.
McMahan: The leadership that we had that came from Kevin Anglin and Bruce Elder was outstanding. They had won games, been through tough times and kind of knew exactly what to expect from the coaching staff, and laid the expectations out for the other guys in the group.
Lawson: They set the tone and did a very good job of just keeping everybody focused, and when we practiced we were able to get better and execute, and they did a good job of keeping us focused on that.
Elder: Chemistry is sometimes hard to define where it comes from or where you get it; fortunately, we just had it. A lot of us lived together and I think that is a big testament when guys will actually make the choice to live with one another in the dorms. We had lived together either that year or in prior years and that builds some additional bonds.
Anglin: You just had very little ego inside the group and that is a big part why teams don't work at that level; you get too much ego involved and that group has very little ego. When you have a talented group with no ego and then sort of a singleness and purpose to accomplish things, you have a chance to be pretty good and it worked out well for us.
McMahan: Our senior leaders and older guys made sure that everyday our job was to come to work and if we did our job, then everything else would probably fall into place because we were a skilled, gritty and successful team.
Woods: They were very strong leaders for us. Late in the season, I know Kevin and Bruce went to the coaching staff about our practices and some of our running and the length of our practices. I know the coaching staff backed down the length of the practices and even some of the running at the end to keep our legs fresh, and I know that really seemed to help some down the stretch.
Fogler: It is easy to say you have leadership, but it is hard to get that quality and kind of leadership that that team provided the coaching staff.
Elder: Coach Fogler expected the seniors and the older guys to really try to develop the chemistry within the locker room. It is tough for coaches to do that on their own. It is, I think, a much better approach and I think the players feel accountable for one another if they take a lead in it and try to define the chemistry of the team.
Fogler: When you don't have leadership, it forces the coach to be the leader and when the coach has to be the leader and team captain, it is much more difficult physically and mentally on the coach to be the team captain.
Elder: We actually had our one and only team meeting the night after our second game of the year, which was when we lost to Illinois in Alaska. We played terrible and I can't remember all the circumstances, but Kevin and I thought we needed to pull the group together, not for any dramatic crises or anything, but just to kind of maybe refocus or repurpose ourselves a little bit.
Anglin: We had high hopes, high expectations and got off to a good start, beat a UAB team handily and just played awful against Illinois. They had a good team and certainly played well, but nothing went right that night.
Elder: The meeting wasn't anything dramatic. It was short, quick, let's make sure we are all getting on the same page so this doesn't happen again.
Anglin: Bruce and I just echoed what I think the group was thinking, which was that we are not going through this again, we are not going to have this inconsistency that we had the previous year and so I think that was one turning point.
Elder: Coach Fogler, I think, was a little perplexed as to why we would call a team meeting after the second game. He thought it was a little early in the season for a team meeting. Who knows if it actually had any effect. Probably not much at the end, but it seemed to be a moment where we decided that playing that way was not something we wanted to do again.
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V. Stacey Poole is Still Taking Extra Steps
"I thought Coach Fogler had broken his foot when he kicked the water cooler in the locker room."
Anglin: I think the second turning point in the season was when we lost the two games to Memphis and Florida back-to-back. They were two games that we should have won. The Memphis game, I think we led for about 30 minutes and then threw the ball all over the place against the press the last two minutes and ended up losing. And then the Florida game, I guess you could argue we did win given the controversial ending.
Fogler: Memphis was very good. We played them in Memphis and they were incredibly talented. We then went down to Florida and I'll never forget the game. Stacey Poole hit the winning jumper and he walked twice. We lost right at the buzzer with the jumper.
Woods: Poole definitely traveled when he hit a last-second shot, but we didn't get the call and the shot went in and it was a crazy mob scene at the O'Connell Center.
Lawson: Poole took like three steps and beat us at the buzzer and I can still see it. The refs were standing right there. That sticks out because that is one we should not have lost.
McMahan: Poole was at the top of the key and he walked trying to get by Kevin. I thought Coach Fogler had broken his foot when he kicked the water cooler in the locker room.
Milburn: I do think that that moment was the turning point. Looking back, it may have been one of those moments that could galvanize a team a little bit. I think from that point on, we did play much better after the Florida game.
Hall: What I always remember about that team was that after a loss, it always seemed to make us more determined, and how we just came together and did the things we needed to do at that point on to win the next game.
Fogler: We came back and had Kentucky and that showed me the character and the competitiveness of that team to be able to bounce back from not only two road losses, but you could argue, you should have won down at Florida.
Lawson: Obviously, the Kentucky game was huge because we had lost back to back games and we came in and Kentucky was No. 1. There was a little back and forth until the end when we finally pulled away. That was a big one as far as confidence, especially coming off a couple of losses.
Evans: It was funny for me because as a redshirt that season, I was always the Jamal Mashburn when we played Kentucky or the Penny Hardaway when we played Memphis. Practices were tough and they made me earn everything in preparing to face those two guys that week.
Seckar: The most memorable game for me was the Kentucky game. The thing I remember about that is that we worked on a new press break the two days before that. That was the first time we did it. To have such a smart team that you could put a press break in in two days and beat the No. 1 team in the country ... it was pretty impressive to me as a freshman watching that stuff.
Evans: I think Coach Fogler had Rick Pitino's number when it came to his press. Whenever Rick would do the press, it just wouldn't work. I think Fogler had his number concerning his press with the type of talent we had and the fact that we had four perimeter guys that could handle the ball and not turn it over. The next time we played them, I don't think they pressed at all.
Hall: It is never hard to get up for a high-ranked team in the nation, especially when you are trying to prove yourself, and Kentucky coming into our place was just a good opportunity to prove to everybody that we were a good team and we could hold our own.
Fogler: We played Kentucky on a Tuesday and it might of been good news because we didn't have a lot of time to think about our loss much to Florida. I thought we played awfully well against Kentucky and then got on a great roll.
McMahan: We knew we were a good basketball team and we were not going to let those two losses define us as not being tough enough or define us as just being close and not being able to get over the edge. We just made up our minds that we were going to take care of business at home and the next opportunity we got on the road, we were going to take of business there, too.
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VI. No Time for Pomp and Circumstance
"I wouldn't say there was a lot of outward celebration because we knew that we all had a lot of work to do."
Anglin: We weren't sure if we were going to out duel Kentucky or not for the SEC title and I remember the night it really came into focus that we have a real chance to do this. We were tied for first place with Kentucky and we were playing in a game in Athens. We won in overtime, 87-83, and Kentucky was playing on the road at Tennessee and we had gotten on the bus and heard that Kentucky had lost in a wild finish in Knoxville, which had put us up by one game in the standings with only three games to play.
McMahan: The message that I remember from Coach Fogler was, 'We cannot control anything out of our hands, we can control our own destiny. So our job is to go win our games that we have in front of us and not worry about anyone else. Take care of our own business, and in turn if we do that, the chips will fall where they may.'
Anglin: At that point, it became very real that not only can you do this, but if you do what you are supposed to do, they can't do anything about it. It is in your hands and you control your destiny to win it. We were always a focused group, but probably even to a new level that it was very much within grasp.
McMahan: After us winning at South Carolina to win the SEC, there wasn't a big celebration. We didn't high-five. We didn't hoop and holler a whole bunch. We kind of just shook our heads and walked off the court like, 'We took care of that, where do we go from here?'
Evans: It reminded me of the Indiana - Michigan game from just the other day. There was not much celebration. It was like, 'Wow, we really did it. SEC champs.' We knew that we had made history, especially coming from the year before when we had a pretty tough year.
Anglin: I wouldn't say there was a lot of outward celebration because we knew that we all had a lot of work to do. We still had some goals we were trying to achieve. I'd be lying if I didn't say there wasn't a pause to pat each other on the back and check that off the list. You knew that that was special, but you also knew that, look, when this is all over, we will really revel in it and enjoy it.
Elder: We knew it was a big accomplishment, but we also understood the season was not over and there was still a lot to play for.
Anglin: I'll never forget the plane ride home. That was probably a couple of hour period on the ride home from Columbia where we really got ourselves to just enjoy things for a couple of hours. It was kind of a sparse flight. There weren't many people on it beyond us and we were able to move around and be together. There was a little crowd at the airport when we got home so that was really neat.
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VII. It Ended Too Soon
"Even at the time, we knew there was something that was special going on."
Lawson: The losses stick with you almost more than the wins because I'll never forget that Temple game when we lost in the Sweet 16. That one ... driving down the highway, I still think about that. We may have shot one or two free throws the whole game.
Elder: It was a very, very dissatisfying end to the season.
Woods: That's just the way the tournament is. It is setup for that abrupt end for the loser in the tournament and it is not until later on when you can really reflect back on the season and realize everything you did accomplish.
Elder: The game went so quickly, they played a zone and there were very few fouls or dead balls. It seemed like it was over far earlier than it should have been. We just ran out of time in the end and it was a very frustrating second half. When Temple gets a lead on you with that zone, it is tough to make up ground quickly.
Woods: When you are in the tournament, you want to win games. Especially when you are in the tournament against a team you know you can beat, you want to second guess what you did during the game. Could you have done anything differently? You run through that stuff in your head a little while.
Elder: When it ended, it didn't feel like an epic game where you walked off with guns blazing, it felt more just like the horn went off and it was a very odd feeling to consider that was in fact the end. It didn't feel like the end.
Seckar: Just with everything going right, you just kind of thought that was how it was going to be going to the tournament every year, but that ended up being the only time I went to the tournament. I don't know if I took the year for granted, but I definitely thought that that was how it was going to be. It ended up being a pretty special year looking back on it.
Woods: Even at the time, we knew there was something that was special going on. As a player, the more time goes by, the more fondly I look back at what we did there, especially since there hasn't been a team since then that has won the regular season title at Vanderbilt.
Lawson: It is so cool to think about because before we won 1973-74 was the last title and no one has won a regular season title since. It doesn't come around very often and it was something special to be a part of.
Fogler: I was pretty lucky to have a good and dedicated group of guys who liked to play, who were very competitive and didn't like losing. We really had a great group. All were really good guys and great students.
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