Bryce Drew (Russell) | Stephanie White (Howell)
By Zac Ellis
On campus in Nashville - The sun has yet to rise on Vanderbilt's campus. It's 6:51 a.m. on a chilly winter morning, but in the dim lobby of the Commodore basketball offices at Memorial Gymnasium, Stephanie White is already coaching.
Vanderbilt's first-year women's basketball coach sits in a cushioned leather chair flanked by her Commodore cohorts: associate coach Carolyn Peck, assistant coaches Kelly Komara and Joy Cheek and video coordinator Lindsay Davis. Vanderbilt's staff has a date with their players in the film room in a few moments. For now, White has some last-minute details to shore up.
As the coaches break down the morning's upcoming practice, White suddenly realizes she needs more than words. She rises from her seat, curls around its back and assumes a defensive stance. Hands up and knees bent, White mimics exactly what she wants to see from a particular drill. "We've got to get it this time," White says.
For two days this season, Commodore Nation shadowed White and her counterpart, first-year men's basketball coach Bryce Drew. That duo is tasked with authoring new eras of Vanderbilt basketball. How, exactly, are they doing that? Commodore Nation takes you inside a day in the life of the `Dores basketball programs.
"We've got one minute!"
White bursts out of a ground-floor elevator at Memorial Gym. Trailed by her staff, White sprints down the bleachers and across the gym floor toward the `Dores' locker room. Behind her, a scampering Peck laughs. "Hey, I already got my run in this morning!" she cracks.
Soon Vanderbilt's coaches reach the film room, where their players are already seated in two neat rows, donning practice gear. White steps to the front of the room and welcomes her team. Then, it's business time. "We're going to watch film everyday," White says. "We've got to be disciplined in the details."
With that, White takes a seat in favor of Komara, who leads the film review on defense. A former teammate of White's at Purdue, Komara offers a clip-by-clip breakdown of lackadaisical effort on defense. A few minutes in, she jumps up and down and points to senior forward Marqu'es Webb on the screen. The film showed Webb failing to rotate on defense, falling victim to "ball-watching," Komara says. "Do you see that?" a lively Komara shouts. "Ahhh!"
Soon, it's the offense's turn under Cheek. Vanderbilt's assistant turns on the film and laments the number of Commodores who pass up open shots. At the edge of the room, White leans forward in her chair and briefly interrupts Cheek. "You are never going to have a greener light than you have right now," White tells her players.
The implication is clear: this squad must prepare to score points.
White claps her hands. "Alright, let's get out there!" she says.
Vanderbilt's players file out of the room and toward the practice gym. The Commodores spend a few minutes stretching with strength and conditioning coach Josh Jones, marching up and down the court. Then, at 7:42 a.m., White begins clapping. That begins a wave of simultaneous applause from the Commodores as they converge atop the Star V at midcourt.
Suddenly, Webb begins counting. "One, two, three!" she shouts -- and the `Dores stop on "three". A quieted crowd hones in on White.
Vanderbilt's coach takes a book out of her jacket, one written by Jon Gordon and entitled, The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy. Days earlier, White had asked her players to study the book, one chapter at a time. On this particular morning, it's White job to review Chapter One.
The book's main character, George, starts his day by finding his car with a flat tire. Frustrated, George is forced to ride the bus to work. Along the way George encounters several strangers who ultimately change his outlook on an otherwise inconvenient day.
White sees that as a teaching moment for the Commodores. "You can choose to see something as a curse, or you can choose to see something as a gift," White says. "That's a little bit like our mindset."
With that, the Commodores begin practice.
By the time Bryce Drew steps into the Community Room at Vanderbilt's Jean and Alexander Heard Library, his awaiting crowd is busy enjoying the spoils of a breakfast buffet. This morning Drew is the featured speaker at a meeting of Vanderbilt's Alumni Association. Moments after Drew enters, Alumni Board President Perry Brandt ushers Vanderbilt's basketball coach to the front of the room, introducing Drew by ticking off his career accolades.
Then, Brandt adds. "Coach Drew, I couldn't be happier to have you at Vanderbilt."
The dozens of alumni association members applaud. A smiling Drew, dressed in a black polo shirt and slacks, thanks the crowd and begins to talk hoops. Soon, he takes questions on a number of topics, from his social media policy to the importance of academics and alumni. Drew says he wants Vanderbilt basketball to be a tool for the university. "As a basketball coach and as a staff, we want to be part of what you guys do," Drew says. "Feel free to use us."
Before Drew departs, a member of the crowd offers one final question: How do you define success at Vanderbilt?
Drew doesn't hesitate. "I want to play as a team," he says, "and play with great passion."
The Commodores' women's team has been on the practice floor for two hours, and Stephanie White isn't happy with the effort. "This is full speed!" she says. "Jogging will not cut it! Don't settle for shortcuts!"
Five minutes later, White begins clapping again. Her players, dog-tired and sweating, follow suit at midcourt. White is installing a fast-paced style to Commodore basketball, and running has become an intricate part of her practices. Soon, Webb offers her customary countdown, and with a one-two-three, the day's practice is over.
Still, White isn't finished teaching. "The details are what separate good teams from great teams," she says. "Mentally, we've got to be sharper."
Standing next to White, Carolyn Peck pipes up. "By the way," she says, "can somebody bring a box out tomorrow?"
Drew arrives back in his office at Memorial Gym. His expansive desk sits behind a black leather couch and two oversized chairs, which are accompanied by a whitewashed side table shaped like an anchor. The office features a handful of Drew's personal touches - family pictures, etc. - but it remains unfinished; like many pieces of décor, a framed No. 5 Team USA jersey from Drew's international playing career sits on the floor, propped against a wall. Its hanging spot remains undetermined.
The clutter tends to ruffle Drew's feathers in moments of stress. "I'll feel a lot better when I'm organized," Drew says.
But Vanderbilt's head coach doesn't have time to clean. On this day, the next few minutes are dedicated to playing catch-up. Drew's director of basketball administration, Matt Olinger, stops by to update his boss on a potential recruit. Drew meets briefly with team trainer Shannon Gordon for an injury update on his roster. In between, Drew opens his laptop for a quick refresher on rules changes sent to Division-I coaches this offseason.
Later, Drew sits down with his director of basketball operations, Luke Simons, and Brock Williams, associate AD for men's basketball, to finalize team travel for the 2016-17 season. Everything from buses to flight to team hotels must be planned accordingly. Drew, who came to Vanderbilt after fives seasons as a head coach at Valparaiso, is unaccustomed to this much help with housekeeping details. Sitting on his office couch, Drew can't help but laugh.
"You've got to remember, in the mid-majors, we did all of this ourselves," Drew says.
White opens a glass door and strolls into a conference room adjacent to Vanderbilt's basketball offices. She plops into a chair at the head of a long table, her staff filling in the seats around her. The Commodore coaches have a meeting with the Vanderbilt athletics marketing team, and Stephen Curitore, assistant director of marketing, will soon begin a presentation on season tickets sales and overall promotion of the program.
A particular slide of Curitore's Power Point references social media. As a general rule, White likes what she sees. "We should be tweeting, Facebook-ing and Instagram-ing to get the word out," she says.
The staff is treated to a quick TV spot featuring clips of White at her introductory press conference. Other promotions, such as an "Education Day" event planned for an upcoming game, are shown on the screen. Over the course of an hour, White and her staff offer thoughts on how best to spread the gospel of Vanderbilt hoops. If someone gives White a chance to talk Commodores, she says, sign her up.
At one point, Curitore mentions free donuts planned for an upcoming event. Peck points to her boss at the head of the table. "Tell them we have a coach who loves Dunkin' Donuts," Peck says.
White claps her hands. "Yes!" she says.
Bryce Drew is hungry. He leaves his office, rides the elevator to the ground floor of Memorial Gym and briskly walks to the parking lot. Drew climbs into the driver's seat of a white BMW - "This is actually my mom's car," he says - and cruises towards West End Avenue. His choice for today's lunch: Qdoba, a Mexican grill located a short drive from campus.
Drew pulls into Qdoba's parking lot and glances at the front door. A posted sign indicates Qdoba is closed due to broken cash registers. "You've got to be kidding me!" Drew exclaims. But the coach quickly calls an audible: he parks and waltzes across the street to Jason's Deli. Entering through the "to-go" door, Drew orders a sandwich, grabs his receipt and snags a free ice cream cone while waiting.
His flavor of choice? Chocolate and vanilla swirl.
Drew arrives back at his office with a sack of Jason's Deli in hand. He eats at his desk while writing out the day's practice plan. The Commodores are poised to hit the court in 45 minutes, but first Drew must meet with his staff for a pre-practice huddle.
After a few minutes, Drew heads to the conference room across the hall. Most of his staff is already there: Olinger and Simons along with assistant coaches Jake Diebler, Omar Mance and Casey Shaw. Drew passes out sheets of printed halfcourt cutouts. He begins to reel off a number of drills on the docket. His coaches scribble furiously to keep up.
Drew dismisses the staff, and Simons reminds the coaches of a standing appointment for that evening. Drew and his assistants are scheduled to attend the Vanderbilt's women's soccer game that evening. "But there's a good chance it's going to rain tonight," Simons says.
Across the room, a laughing Drew points to the conference-room window. It's already pouring outside Memorial Gym.
The Commodores have been warming up on the practice floor for 15 minutes by the time Drew enters through a pair of double doors. Sporting a white golf shirt and grey sweats, Drew greets each player individually, trading hellos and high-fives.
At 1:34 p.m., the `Dores gather at midcourt. Olinger leads the group in a brief team prayer. Then, after a few quick words from Drew, it's time to hit the court.
Drew's practice style is fast; the Commodores move quickly between drills, and their head coach is on his heels the whole time. Drew constantly moves from one end of the court to the other as his assistants lead individual drills with position groups.
On one side of the floor, Shaw uses a giant padded bag to post up against Vanderbilt's big men. Suddenly Drew stops by and blows his whistle. Redshirt freshman center Djery Baptiste has just bodied up on Shaw and banked in a layup, but Drew wants a more physical effort. "Don't let him push you!" Drew says.
With that, Baptiste lines up for another rep.
It's quiet in Stephanie White's office, and Vanderbilt's coach sits at her desk for a moment of solitude. In a few minutes White has a short meeting scheduled with a rep from Vanderbilt human resources. But for now, she has a chance to recharge.
Indeed, the life of an SEC basketball coach leaves little time for rest, and both Drew and White spend every hour working to lead Vanderbilt basketball to the top of the SEC.