Summer Q&A with Coach Stallings
Sept. 6, 2012
Vanderbilt head men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings sat down with vucommodores.com for an extensive interview about this year’s team – from the schedule to the new NCAA practice rules – with practice just over a month away.
The Commodore mentor has put together quite the resume in his 13 years in Nashville. His 2012 team captured the 2012 SEC Tournament championship for the first time in 60 years, his teams went to three consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2010-2012, the first such-stretch in Commodore history, and three Commodores heard their names announced in the first 31 picks of the 2012 NBA Draft.
And, as is the case every year in collegiate sports, Stallings has to replace pieces from his previous teams, and for the upcoming year, he and his staff have to replace the aforementioned NBA Draft picks (John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor), along with two other senior starters (Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne) and its top reserve (Steve Tchiengang). Although the task may seem daunting to some, Stallings has seen it before in his career and is ready for the challenge.
“We’ve had to do this two or three times in my career,” said Stallings. “I had to do it one year at Illinois State, had to do it here before. This is not an entirely new thing for me, but it will be as inexperienced of a team that I’ve ever had.”
What are your thoughts on the non-conference schedule?
We have a number of difficult games, high major teams, mid-major teams that are very, very good, and it’s a very aggressive schedule, particularly for a team that is as inexperienced as this one will be. But, these are the types of games and schedules that our guys have gotten used to playing in and prefer to play in, even if it may not equate into as many victories as we’ve seen in the past couple of years, I think it will do a great job in preparing us for conference play.
And what about conference play?
The conference schedule will certainly have a new look and it’s funny, because every time you look at the league schedule it’s, ‘Wow, that looks hard,’ but that’s why the league is as good as it is, because it’s a difficult league. It’ll be interesting to take on this new format and see what the challenges are within it. But, we have a very, very difficult schedule, from top to bottom, and it will challenge everything about our team. I hope I haven’t overscheduled them, because we are going to be very inexperienced, but I know our guys are going to be very excited about the challenges our schedule will present.
The 2012-13 team, in many circles is unproven, yet not untalented…what are your expectations, and what are your thoughts on them right now?
I think that our expectations are such, like they are every year, and that is to grow this team into the best team it can be. In every sense of the word ‘team’. Do we play together? Do we think together? Do we fight together? Do we face adversity together? Those will be the things that, for me, will define what kind of team we have. Obviously, we want to win as many games as possible, but winning is a by-product of those other things, of the growth, of the leadership, of the togetherness. Those things that are, sort of, intangible qualities. And so, hopefully, we will be an A+ in those categories and that will raise any ability we have to be an A+-type of team.
Have you seen any leadership emerge from this summer?
I think we’ve had guys that have had great energy and enthusiasm this summer, but I always hesitate in identifying guys who are going to be leaders. I think it’s easy for leadership to occur outside of the season. I think when guys face the different adversities, especially the individual adversities that occur during a season, that’s when you find out who your leaders are. It’s maybe when things aren’t going well for a guy, can he continue to be a really good leader for you? We’ve had guys in past years that have proven that they could lead without any particular regard to their particular role on the team, and I think that’s what we have to find out about this team. Sure, it’s easy to lead, and it’s easy to lead in the summertime and in the fall when everybody thinks they’re going to start and they’re going to play, but what will happen when playing time starts getting divided and guys aren’t playing as much as they thought they might have? What will be their leadership capacity and their attitude capacity then?
It seems as if our guys have a good summer in all aspects - attitude, grades, practice. What is your assessment?
First of all, my staff, and in particular Tom Richardson, has done a great job with our workouts and generating a high level of energy and enthusiasm with our guys this summer. But, the energy from the workouts has carried over into the classroom. Our guys made outstanding grades in their summer classes, and it’s extended to the weight room and other areas. We couldn’t have asked for a better beginning or timing of a rule change to allow us to be with our guys in the summer. But, again, I think that in some ways, this is kind of like vacation time. Everything is good. Everything is easy. That’s not saying the workouts are easy or the class work is easy, because they’re not, but you don’t face a whole lot of adversity in the summer time, and I think we won’t know about our team until we get hit with some adversity. That’s when we’ll find out what we have.
Talk about the practice rule change – how does that impact what you’re going to do in October.
I think what’s kind of occurred, at least in the last several years, with the workouts and being able to work out with your entire team, rightly or wrongly, is that the luster of the first day of practice has been a little bit lost, which to me, is okay. There were so many injuries, as I look back, in the first week of practice because guys would go from zero to 100 in two days, and you do the best job you could in conditioning as a coach to get them ready for that, but it’s still not the same type of impact you face in practice. And so, I think that it gives you an opportunity to start installing some of your system things, whether it be offense or defense, or both. We’ve done both the last few years. We’ve used the September time to do defense. We’ve used it to do offense. It certainly changes the first day of practice because you don’t have as much running into each other, because guys are trying to go fast and go hard but don’t know where they’re going. Now, they have a little bit more of a feel for what they’re doing, and the beginning of practice is a little bit smoother.
You’ve seen these guys for most of the summer. What do you believe our strengths are right now?
We haven’t done enough offensive and defensive stuff to make an assessment, and most of the stuff we’ve done this summer has been skill development type of things. We’ll get into schemes here soon. The skill work has been very, very beneficial. Whether it’s been a guy who’s needing to have better footwork, or his shot. Or be able to dribble with his left hand, or his weak hand. Shooting. Passing. We’ve tried to attack a lot of skill development things in the summer and I think that will pay dividends when we start with the scheme things, because they’ll be better basketball players as a result of what we’ve done. I’m not prepared, or qualified even, to say that our strength will be defense, or offense, or shooting, or passing. I truly don’t have enough of a feel for this group and these guys, and we haven’t put them in a system or a scheme yet to determine those things.
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