When a sweet-shooting swingman from Kenner, La., and fiery point guard from Pensacola, Fla., first met, they never could have imagined that they would eventually make up the core of the most successful senior class in Vanderbilt history.
But, fast forward four years, and that's the reality for Shan Foster and Alex "Red" Gordon.
Even more impressive than their 85 victories, 2,999 combined points and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, however, is the way in which the friends have almost single-handedly changed this program's identity.
"I've told these seniors that they're going to go down as the group that's changed the program the most from the time they got here to the time they left," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, "and I think that's a heck of a legacy."
Perhaps the most impressive thing the two have done is turn practice into something that's looked forward to, rather than dreaded. While it may seem insignificant, the best teams always seem to be the ones that play hard, play together and have fun.
"They came to me after their sophomore year and said, 'Coach, in practice we're being told just to get through it. We want practice to be fun,'" Stallings said, "and that was kind of what started it."
Over the past two seasons, the Commodores have embraced practice. It's no coincidence that success has followed.
"If I've heard Red say this once, I've heard him say it 500,000 times: 'We got to get better today,' and he says it every day multiple times," Stallings said. "After you hear something over and over and over and over and over again, it just sort of sticks and it becomes part of the atmosphere and becomes part of what the program is about."
Once the players began enjoying themselves, Stallings could do the same.
"I challenged him to go out and have fun himself," Foster said. "My first two years, it wasn't fun for him, it wasn't fun for us. I've always been the type guy that I like to see other people have fun as well...I felt like if we had fun, he'd have fun. If he had fun, we'd have fun."
"They wouldn't allow me not to have fun," he said. "They changed the mentality towards our work."
In addition to setting the tone at practice, Foster and Gordon have worked tirelessly to become more complete players in the off-season, shooting hundreds of jump shots a day in an otherwise-deserted Memorial Gym.
"Red and I are two guys that really love the game of basketball and are very dedicated to it," Foster said. "During the summer time we're here probably more than anybody else, working on our games together."
The hard work has paid off as both players have enjoyed the best seasons of their careers. Foster was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Gordon averaged 11 points, 3.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game.
While Stallings has been to known to criticize Gordon, the fact is that he could not admire him more.
"Red has sacrificed, Red has been unselfish, Red has bought into every last thing this coaching staff has asked of him," Stallings said. "Does he always execute it perfectly? No, but I wouldn't trade Red for anybody.
"I love his competitive spirit. I love his attitude in practice and I love his dedication to his teammates. He loves his teammates and he loves his team, and you can't beat guys like that."
You also can't go wrong with Foster, the school's all-time leading scorer who didn't even know Vanderbilt existed growing up.
"I joke with people from time to time, saying that when I was recruited by Coach Stallings and coach (Jeff) Jackson, who's at Furman right now, the first time I met them I had never heard of Vanderbilt," Foster said. "Like ever."
Recruits certainly know Vanderbilt now, thanks in large part to the efforts Foster and Gordon, who have been close from the beginning. They took their official visits to Vanderbilt on the same weekend, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"We bonded a lot then and continued to keep in touch throughout our senior year (of high school) and we were roommates when we got here," Foster said. "Red's my brother. He's a great guy, a great teammate, he's always trying to do whatever it takes to win and to not only make himself better, but his teammates better."
The same can be said about Foster, which is why the fourth-seeded Commodores are optimistic about their chances in the Big Dance. They play No. 13 Siena Friday (6:20 CT) in the first round of the Midwest Regional.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, Foster and Gordon's place in Vanderbilt history is secure.
"They've changed the mindset of the program," Stallings said. "I don't see it going back."
-Jarred Amato is a junior at Vanderbilt University and also writes for "The Sports VU" at http://sportsvu.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.