Sunday, June 29, 2008

Q & A with Festus Ezeli

Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli admits that he is still getting used to the spotlight. The 6-11, 245-pound center began playing basketball just three years ago and redshirted in 2007-08. Ezeli caught the attention of college recruiters last summer while playing AAU basketball for the Sacramento Pharaohs, and chose the Commodores over several teams, including Florida, Connecticut and West Virginia.

While Ezeli said he still needs to learn a lot about the game, the Nigerian native nonetheless made great strides this season, earning Vanderbilt's Most Improved Player award at the team banquet.

In between class and workouts, Ezeli recently took some time to answer some questions from The Sports VU about a number of topics, including what it's like to guard A.J. Ogilvy, a funny story about Kevin Stallings and his strengths and weaknesses as a player.

Sports VU: How are excited are you get on the court and contribute next year?
Festus Ezeli: I am excited to be able to help out the team and help push them past previous achievements. It's still just surreal to me. I don't think it has hit me yet that I'm going to be playing. I'm just really excited.

SV: I'm sure it must have been frustrating to sit out an entire season. What was it like?
FE: Yes, it really was. To put in all that work in practice, you want to go out and show what you've learned and pretty much just help out, especially during the post season.

SV: How would you describe your game? What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
FE: Well, I think I'm an explosive big man. I try to be a big presence inside on both sides of the floor. Getting stronger has helped improve my game. I can rebound, block shots, and I'm starting to get a hang of the post game. Problem is I am still new to the game so my knowledge of it is still not as refined as most college athletes.

SV: What are you up to this summer?
FE: June and July we're back in school for summer classes. We have to workout also. This is the best time for that because now we can build our individual talents.

SV: What was it like going up against A.J. in practice every day? I feel like if you can guard him, you can pretty much guard any big man in the league.
FE: I mean you guys have seen play. I don't have to tell you that he is a really good player. In order for my team not to lose everyday in practice, I had to do a better job of guarding A.J. and it really improved my defensive game. I'm looking forward to guarding the other big men.

SV: What impresses you the most about A.J.'s game? What makes him hard to defend?
FE: He has great hands, quick feet and those things I'm still working on. He is such a smart player also. This combination makes him tough to guard.

SV: How honored were you to receive the team's most improved player award this season?
FE: That was my first athletic award so I was very honored. My mom arrived the day of the ceremony and she was very proud. This just fueled me to want to win it again next year.

When did you start playing basketball?
FE: I first started playing about three summers ago. Played AAU in Las Vegas. Stopped playing for a while and then started again two summers ago when I realized that I loved the game.

SV: Talk about the differences between Nigeria and the U.S.
FE: There's a lot of differences. but the main thing for me is that life out here is more organized and I feel like there are more opportunities available.

What made you pick Vanderbilt?
FE: Great coach, really cool teammates, crazy nice and energetic fans, awesome school. What more can you ask for?

SV: What's it like to play for Coach Stallings? Any funny stories you can share about him?
FE: Coach stallings is the best. He challenges you to make the best of your potentials and he's really smart that I just feel privileged to play for him.
Haha umm... there was the one time he told everyone to get in the key while we were playing one practice and I stood at the free-throw line. He got really hot and cursed me out haha. I got made fun of by the guys about that.

SV: Who's the funniest player on the team?
FE: We got a lotta funny guys but i think George Drake's the funniest. Just the mix of jokes and the country accent haha.

Have you gotten a chance to play with any of the recruits before? If so, what are their games like?
FE: We play pickup right now with Lance (Goulbourne) and Steve (Tchiengang). Steve is a shooting and rebounding big man that can play good defense. Lance is a really athletic and big body wing. They're good players. Played with Brad (Tinsley) on his visit and he is a really good passer and a good shooting point guard. Haven't seen Jeff play.

SV: How would you rate your first-year at Vanderbilt -- the classes, the city, the fans, parties, etc.?
SV: It's been great. Much different than I thought. It's been really fun.

SV: What's something most fans wouldn't know about you?
FE: That I'm kind of shy, still getting used to the spotlight.


Tony Arnold said...

Great interview. I am excited about having two talented big men in the line up. Metcalf's slow recover from previous injuries kept us from realizing the full potential of a this last year. It hurt his consistency and I don't think he ever reached the stamina he had two years ago.

This year will likely have its struggles as we work to build consistency and team dynamics, but from an overall talent standpoint, we should have greater breadth than ever. Exciting times ahead for the VU basketball.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see all these guys on the floor. Might be interesting to see both the bigs at the same time.

Tony Arnold said...

I agree on seeing both big men at the same time. We had trouble with quick guards breaking us down with penetration last year. One way to fight that is two big men. One can stay on the other team's main big guy while the other defends the rest of the paint. And from what I hear about Festus and his wingspan, he is the perfect paint marauder while AJ focuses on the other team's big man.