The seventh-ranked Vanderbilt men's basketball team will open the season with an exhibition game against Xavier (La.) on Monday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. CT inside Memorial Gym. To learn more about the 2011-12 squad, check out the official fact book online.
Expectations for this year's Commodore basketball team may be the highest in the program's history, with all five starters returning from a 23-11 team in 2010-11, including three that were named to the All-SEC team. With Vanderbilt's five starters and 10 letterwinners returning and a stellar recruiting class entering the mix, numerous publications have Vanderbilt in their preseason top 10, the first time the Commodores have seen their name that high since the All-American Clyde Lee-led teams in 1964 (Associated Press preseason number six) and 1965 (AP preseason number five).
Led by 13th-year coach Kevin Stallings, one of the game's top practitioners, the 2011-12 rendition of the Commodores has it all - a senior-laden team, a heady point guard who led the league in assists in 2010-11 (Brad Tinsley), one of the nation's top shooters (John Jenkins), an athletic slasher with an improved jump shot (Jeffery Taylor), and a post presence that emerged last season that provided the Commodores a surprise boost to its offense (Festus Ezeli) - to have a very successful season.
No wonder the college basketball world has such high expectations for this year's Vanderbilt squad.
Tinsley, a point guard at Oregon City (Ore.) High School and the state's Big School second all-time leading scorer behind NBA all-star Kevin Love, excelled in his first year as a collegiate point guard, notching the school's first ever triple-double against Presbyterian and leading the SEC in assists at 4.6 per game.
Jenkins had a stellar sophomore season in 2010-11 - he led the SEC in scoring in all games (19.5) and in SEC games only (20.8 ppg), and also led the league in threes made per contest with 3.1 per game. A first-team All-SEC selection last season and a preseason SEC Player-Of-The-Year candidate entering the 2011 campaign, Jenkins strengthened his resume this summer at the World University Games in China where he represented Team USA. He led all USA scorers at 13.5 points per game in eight games in Shenzen, China.
Fuller backed up Tinsley at the point guard position in 2010-11 as a true freshman, played in all 34 games, and averaged 1.9 points and 1.6 assists per game. Fuller provided energy off of the bench last season, and has worked hard on his jump shot in the offseason to add to his get-to-the-rim game.
Fuller will be pushed by freshman Kedren Johnson, who is from nearby Lewisburg, Tenn. Johnson averaged 27.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 3.6 steals and 1.5 blocks in his senior season at Marshall County, where he departed as the school's all-time scoring and assist leader. Under head coach Jason Tigert, his Tigers' teams won three district and regional championships, and advanced to the Class 2A semifinals as a senior in 2011 in route to being named a district MVP four times, and a regional MVP three times.
Dai-Jon Parker will serve as Jenkins' backup at the two-guard position, as will Tinsley, who can slide over to play the off-guard spot if needed. Parker averaged 14 points, six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals in his senior season at Milton High School in Georgia, a team that had three other Division I players in the starting five. His 2010 Milton team captured the Class 5A state championship, and the 2011 team won the regional championship.
Redshirt junior walk-on Jordan Smart, a 6'6 shooter from Lexington, Ky., who played in 14 games in 2010-11, also returns to the Vanderbilt backcourt.
Taylor, who has started in all but one game during his three-year career, was a second-team All-SEC selection last year and averaged 14.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The athletic 6'7 forward from Norkopping, Sweden, also improved on his three-point jump shot from his previous two seasons - he made 39 threes in his junior campaign, compared to only 10 in his freshman (1) and sophomore (9) seasons combined.
Goulbourne took advantage of the departed Andre Walker's injury to emerge as the starting power forward in the middle of last season, and made the most of his time in the starting lineup. Goulbourne finished the season as Vanderbilt's leader in rebounds at 7.3 per game, and had a six-game stretch of contests at the beginning of SEC play when he averaged 11.3 rebounds and captured SEC Player of the Week honors in Commodore wins over Ole Miss (Jan. 19) and Saint Mary's (Jan. 22).
Odom played in all 34 games as a freshman, started eight, and averaged 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Odom also made 28 threes in his freshman campaign and shot 37.3% from beyond-the-arc.
Moats is a freshman from Waconia, Minn., who has impressed coaches with his shooting ability in early practices. Moats averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds in his senior year at Waconia High School and ended his career with 1,772 points and 985 rebounds.
Redshirt freshman James Siakam, one of the team's better offensive rebounders and leapers, will also push for time at the wing position. Siakam, from Douala, Cameroon, averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks per game for his Brehm (Ill.) Prep team in his senior season in 2009-10.
Senior walk-on Aaron Noll, who will graduate in May and head to medical school next academic year, also returns for Vanderbilt. Noll played in four games in 2010-11 in limited duty for the Commodores.
Center: The Vanderbilt frontcourt is led by redshirt senior Festus Ezeli, who averaged 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds in his first season as a starter in 2010-11 in route to a second-team All-SEC selection. Ezeli, from Benin City, Nigeria, saw his point and rebound average jump from 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds as a sophomore, when he backed up All-SEC center A.J. Ogilvy. The senior big man also blocked 87 shots, a new Vanderbilt single-season record, and is only five blocks away from becoming the school's all-time career leader in blocks. However, Ezeli sprained his MCL and PCL in his right knee in a preseason practice, and is out until mid-December with the injury.
Picking up the slack for the Commodores in the frontcourt is senior Steve Tchiengang, who can play the center and power forward positions. Tchiengang played in all 34 games last season, and averaged 4.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest. The senior from Douala, Cameroon has the ability to keep defenses honest with a solid three-point jump shot, making 22-of-53 threes a year ago (.415 clip). He had surgery on his right ankle at the end of his junior season, and hopes to be ready by the time the regular season begins in November.
After redshirting in 2010-11, 7'0 freshman Josh Henderson will provide backup minutes to Ezeli and Tchiengang at the five-spot. Henderson, who averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, and four steals per game in his senior season at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Va., has worked hard with Vanderbilt basketball strength and conditioning coach Curtis Turner in the last year to get his body ready for the rigors of Division I basketball.