Assistants reflect on 25 years at VU
Nov. 27, 2012
A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Frederick--son of former University of Kansas athletic director, the late Bob Frederick--came to Vanderbilt's staff straight out of college. Picott played overseas after a successful college career at Rutgers and came to Vanderbilt with Melanie Balcomb from Xavier. Commodore Nation sat down with both coaches last month to discuss their careers.
Commodore Nation: You both served in coaching roles during your college days. How did that help prepare you for this career path?
Vicky Picott: As a student assistant coach I realized early that I wanted to be coaching full-time. Working with [Rutgers coach Theresa] Grentz, she was a great example for me. She played more of a mom figure for me, even when I was in college. She taught me the ins and outs of coaching, and really I was learning how to run a program under her. She developed people first and then players second.
Brad Frederick: I went to North Carolina because I knew before I went to college that I wanted to get into coaching. My dad had been a coach before he was an administrator. Dean Smith was the coach at the time, and it seemed like a great opportunity to learn from him. I went there and played, and they also had a (junior varsity) program. Phil Ford, who was an assistant at the time, ran that, and before my senior year I asked him if I could help coach the JV team on the side. The opportunity to learn under him was a great experience for me.
CN: How did each of you transition to coaching at Vanderbilt?
VP: Initially, my plan was to try to play as long as I possibly could. After college I went to play ball over in Luxembourg for a year and then tried Israel for half a season. Then was coaching the freshman team and assisting the varsity at my high school (Hightstown [N.J.]). One of my former coaches, Kristen Foley, hired me on at Drexel once I was done there, and then we moved on to Temple.
BF: I graduated Carolina in 1999. That spring Coach Stallings had just been hired here at Vanderbilt. So I talked to Coach Stallings and I talked to Matt Doherty, who had just been hired at Notre Dame, about positions, and ultimately came here. [Current VU assistant] David Cason actually got hired at Notre Dame in that spot.
Coach Stallings had been an assistant at Kansas when I was in high school, so I knew him then. I had followed him and knew of the success that he had at Illinois State. I didn't know a lot about Vanderbilt, quite honestly, but had faith that he was going to do a great job here. It seemed like a good starting spot, so I came here and then after my first year here, Steve Shurina left to go be the head coach at Western Carolina, and I got moved up to an assistant spot. That was a little bit crazy. I was 23 and an assistant in the SEC. I felt like I knew what I was doing, but obviously there's an adjustment and a learning curve right away.
CN: To what do you credit your longevity at Vanderbilt?
VP: I feel connected to Vanderbilt, and every single year I feel more connected simply because when you go out and recruit these kids you invest so much time and effort to get them here. On a personal side I almost feel guilty when there is an opportunity to go somewhere else. I know not a lot of coaches deal with this struggle, but for me, I've dealt with that struggle of leaving a player--the Carla Thomases, the Hannah Tuomis, the Tina Wirths, now the Tiffany Clarkes. It's just really difficult. Once you've talked to their parents and you like this kid and you get them here, I feel a sense of commitment to them. To some extent, it could be detrimental, but I love what I do because I feel that Vanderbilt does it the right way.
I think about the problems that we encounter, and because of the type of kid that we get at Vanderbilt it never seems to amount to the problems that other people have at their universities. As coaches, we talk about issues with our teams. I would deal with our issues here at Vanderbilt any time (in comparison). It's just the culture at Vanderbilt, the type of kid that we attract. Our problems aren't half as bad. You feel good about what you're doing every day when you come to work.
BF: I would agree. What we tell people in recruiting all the time is, "The school is great. The town is great. The campus is great. But the best thing about Vanderbilt is our kids on the team. For us, it was that first class that kind of got us over the top, when Matt Freije, Russell Lakey and Scott Hundley were seniors. They started the Vanderbilt culture of great kids who worked hard and were good in the classroom. The best thing is seeing each class after those guys carry on that tradition. Just to be around so many great kids [like] Shan Foster, who won the Senior CLASS Award. And we've had many guys who have been really good examples for Vanderbilt. To now have guys that not only have done great in the classroom but make the NBA, that has been huge for us.
VP: It's a real treat to have them come back. A lot of our kids who have come to Vanderbilt from out of state decide to stay in Nashville because they love it so much and because of their experience. Our kids learn from them. We've had them come in and talk to our players during tournament time just to give them a little bump. It's really neat to have them around, and they love to come back. Having those kids, with all those rings from our three SEC Tournament championships and the Sweet 16 appearances, that close where they can come back and share their experiences has really been invaluable.
CN: Do you have one memory that sticks out from your time here so far?
VP: Our second year here we were down 18 in the SEC Tournament and came back against Georgia (in the championship game), and I remember sitting on the bench and going, "Are you kidding me? We're gonna win the SEC Tournament our second year here!" It was that exciting, because every year I feel like, as far as athleticism and All-Americans, we are always considered the underdog. To come in and make that immediate impact and win the SEC Tournament our second year, I think that holds probably the biggest "wow" factor.
BF: The Sweet 16s and last year's SEC Tournament were great, but for us--for me--the most important game was Senior Night in 2004. We played Tennessee, and it was kind of a make-or-break game for us because we needed a win to feel good about making the NCAA Tournament. Matt Freije scored every basket of the second half, except for the first basket of the half and the last basket. It was absolutely unbelievable. We always joke that Matt is the reason we all still have jobs. That game against Tennessee got us over the hump.
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