Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Underrated Stallings deserves praise

After being bounced by LSU in the SEC Tournament in 2006 -- a painful year for players, coaches and fans -- a local columnist asked Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings about the state of the Commodore program.

"I thought that our program right then was on the verge of making a jump...and (that) we’re on the doorstep of some good things happening," Stallings said. "I’m sure anyone who read what I said then thought I was crazy, but I just felt like we really had an opportunity because of guys that were coming in. I just felt like that we were getting ready to enter a state of a healthy mindset in our program."

Looks like Stallings was right.

Vanderbilt has advanced to two consecutive NCAA Tournaments and become a school that's recognized by college basketball fans across the nation, something that shouldn't be taken for granted.

"I joke with people from time to time, saying that when I was recruited by Coach Stallings and Coach (Jeff) Jackson, who’s at Furman right now, the first time I met them I had never heard of Vanderbilt," said senior Shan Foster. "Like ever."

While the players like Foster were undoubtedly responsible for the turnaround, so too was Stallings.

"The thing that I took out of my recruitment was that I was coming to play for a great guy that knew the game of basketball and that he was dedicated to his team and making his players better," Foster said of Stallings. "Any time you have a coach that dedicated and really shows that he cares, success is coming, and I really felt that. It’s been a great honor to be a part of."

Stallings admitted that achieving this type of success took more time than he anticipated.

"Having worked at Purdue and Kansas and Illinois State, all three of those programs can be fixed more quickly when they’re broken than Vanderbilt can because of the nature of the school and the nature of the kids that you can and cannot get into school," Stallings said. "It just took longer here."

With all the recent success the Commodores have enjoyed, it’s easy to forget that life hasn’t always been this good for the Black & Gold.

Fans were quick to criticize Stallings when thing weren't going well. Now it's time to give one of basketball's most underrated coaches the credit that he very much deserves.

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