Expectations loom large for freshman class

Nov. 5, 2008

Taylor, Smart, Goulbourne, Tchiengang and Tinsley.

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By Ryan Schulz

It is hard to imagine a freshman class that has come to Vanderbilt with as much fanfare as the five freshmen on the men's basketball team. Despite none of the players ever playing a college game, most pundits have already labeled the class as the best in school history.

Judging by the player's accolades, it is easy to see why.

Comprised of Lance Goulbourne (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Jordan Smart (Lexington, Ky.), Jeffery Taylor (Noorkoping, Sweden), Steve Tchiengang (Douala, Cameroon) and Brad Tinsley (Oregon City, Ore.), the five-member freshman class was ranked No. 14 by Rivals.com and No. 25 by Scout.com.

It wasn't too many years ago that Vanderbilt fans wouldn't have dreamed of landing such a highly-touted freshman class. But thanks in part to the team's success of making the NCAA Tournament three times in the past five years, including two trips to the Sweet 16, the Commodores have become a household name in college basketball. Because of Vanderbilt's rise, Head Coach Kevin Stallings knows that it would be hard to find a better time to be a Commodore than right now.

"I think that the future of the program is very, very bright, as bright as it's ever been," Stallings said. "If you take that success that we've had -- two Sweet 16s in five years and 26 victories last year -- and you carry all of that to this season, I think the bar has been raised in this program in a very positive way."

"We're getting in front of and signing high-profile guys and higher-rated recruits, and not as if that makes you have a better team, but it certainly means you're getting some good players. I think that we're attracting guys that have an opportunity to be NBA players, and I haven't always been able to say that in the past."

Whether or not there will be any NBA players who will come out of this class remains to be seen, but just having players with the potential shows how much the program is growing.

According to Rivals.com, Goulbourne, Taylor, Tchiengang and Tinsley are ranked as four-star recruits and in the top 100. It is typical for the traditional power programs such as North Carolina and UCLA to bring in freshmen with those types of accolades, but not for the Commodores.

With the accolades also come higher expectations. Tinsley is aware of the expectations, but he believes they aren't something that will affect him or his classmates.

"(We may feel it) a little bit to some standard, but I think all of us are coming in with the attitude that whatever Coach Stallings has for us, we know that we trust him, and we know he can provide us with the tools we need to be successful," Tinsley said. "None of us are really `me' guys. We are all `we' guys. We'd rather have the team win than individual stats."

Goulbourne agrees: "I don't think (the accolades) will affect us. We just want to come in here and contribute as much as we can in a positive way and do what we can to help the team. We are all for the team, so I don't think anyone here has an ego."

Because the class is so selfless and team-oriented, Stallings hopes the freshmen will help fill the void of the departed seniors not only on the court, but also in the locker room.

"We've got some really hardworking, talented freshmen," Stallings said. "What we feel in our program is that we want you to be one of two types of guys -- we want you to be a really good leader or a really good follower. We don't have room for 14 leaders. We just need a couple of guys to step up and be the right kind of teammates and for the others to follow and take that lead and do something with it."

Just as Stallings and the coaching staff have noticed how hard working and dedicated the freshmen have been, so have the returning players on the team.

"I've been most impressed with their work ethic coming in," redshirt junior George Drake said. "They are already willing and have a great enthusiasm toward the game of basketball. We are a young team, but for them to come in with that type of work ethic to the game, it is sure to give us a big boost."

Despite the group being together for less than six months, Drake has also been impressed with how quickly they have improved.

"You can see that they are getting more comfortable from where they were this summer," Drake said. "They are getting accustomed to what we do, and that has made the transition smoother."

Helping to make that transition on the court go even smoother has been the class' relationship with one another. Those relationships are fortified with Tinsley and Tchiengang living together, just as Taylor and Goulbourne do.

"I think we've come together really well," Tinsley said. "None of us are selfish. We all have great attitudes on and off the court, and we get along."

Taylor also believes the group has come together because of their cohesiveness. "I think we have great chemistry on and off the court. The guys in this class and on this team are like family to me."

Although it may take four years to see just where this class stacks up with ones prior, it is clear that the class has the attitude it needs to live up to its billing.



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