Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Jim Rome loves Shan Foster

I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but Romey said Shan's his favorite player in the draft.
I can’ wait…to get to this ‘take’! I think my favorite guy in the entire NBA draft, is a guy who went 51st overall! The Dallas Mavericks stole the SEC player of the year, Shan Foster. Foster is Vandy’s all time leading scorer. A guy who routinely hit 30 foot NBA style “three bombs”! A guy who can shoot, defend, lead, and most importantly…can’t wait to play in the NBA! But, don’t take my word for it. Hit it Shan!!

Awesome! Incredible guy! Decent singer! And, the song is well…a “little cheesy”. A “little cheesy”, but so awesome! Could the kid be any more sincere and appreciative of the opportunity? No sense of entitlement there. Just love of the game! How do you know? Look around his “pad”! No oversized plasma hanging from the wall that some “booster” bought for him. Just an X-Box hooked up to a 14 inch TV and a random lamp on the floor. If Foster swung the camera around…you’d probably see a stack of cup of noodles and a hot plate.

This guy is going to do great in Dallas! He’s going to “kill it” with catch and shoots off Jason Kidd’s drives and the Dirk Nowitzki double teams. I literally can’t get that song out of my head. Much like I couldn’t get Shaq’s rap out of my head. Except, Shan’s not demanding: “Kobe, tell me, how’s my (bleep) tastes!” Or, telling me he got a vasectomy so now he can’t breed them.

Great job, Shan! We can’t wait to see you play in the NBA either.

And if you want to see a dead-on impression of Jim Rome, click here.

UT's new point guard can ball and rap

I'm a big fan of rap music and have been for the better part of the last decade. Used to love blasting Jay-Z and T.I. in the locker room before high school basketball games and playing Eminem (before he went crazy) on the iPod during bus rides.

I love walking down Greek Row after Vanderbilt victories as Kanye West blares from the speakers and hate when fraternities opt for the classic rock cover bands over hip-hop. And nothing beats driving fast with the windows down, bumpin' Tha Carter III.

So maybe that's why I have soft spot for Tennessee's incoming point guard Bobby Maze, also known as "Be-Amazed, B-Maze, aka, the Solution."

Maze averaged 20.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game last season en route to earning junior college All-American honors at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College after playing at Oklahoma as a freshman. With Ramar Smith gone, Maze has a chance to start for the Vols. He said he just appreciates the opportunity.

"Too many people take this game of basketball for granted," Maze told Go Vols Xtra, "but I wouldn't have been the places I've been and be here if it wasn't for basketball.

"I'm very happy here. It's one of the best things that has happened for me in my life. People have no idea of the road I took to get here."

Maze arrived in Knoxville with a nickname, being called "The Solution" on the Sports Page radio show, a reference to his similar appearance to NBA star Allen Iverson, who's known as "The Answer."

Maze welcomed the nickname and uses it in this freestyle called "Put on Tennessee." While it's not nearly as good as the actual song with Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West, I've gotta give the dude some props. I know most Vanderbilt and Southeastern Conference fans are going to hate on Maze for his performance, but I thought it was pretty entertaining. Check it out for yourself.

Looks like Jermaine Beal has some competition for the best rapping point guard in the SEC. Who's down for a halftime battle between "Dolla" and "The Solution" this winter?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Video of the Day: Start collecting your Earl Bennett football cards

As we turn our attention to the upcoming football season, I couldn't help but think about how much the Commodores are going to miss that soft-spoken wide receiver from Birmingham, Alabama.

Over the past three years, Earl Bennett was so consistently spectacular that we eventually began to take him for granted. It's going to take years before we truly appreciate what Bennett accomplished in the black and gold.

Having never watched a Vanderbilt football game without Earl Bennett, it's going to be a little strange when there is no No. 10 lined up wide this fall. Probably stranger than it is to see Bennett wearing a Chicago Bears jersey during this Topps 2008 NFL Rookie Photo Shoot.

Here's what I wrote about Earl for The Hustler when he declared for the NFL Draft back in January. I think you'll enjoy it:

When asked what he would buy with his first NFL paycheck, Earl Bennett did not hesitate.

"My mom a house," he said.

The answer reaffirmed what we already knew - that, as talented a player as Bennett is, he's an even better person. For No. 10, it was never about the records. In fact, those seemed to matter more to us than to him. After games, Bennett used to say he would trade all of his catches in for a bowl berth. And he meant it.

Looking back at his remarkable career, so many games stand out.

We saw him break out against Richmond on Family Weekend in 2005. He never looked back.

We saw him torch Florida in "The Swamp" and unfairly get called for an excessive celebration penalty, which was ironic considering his modesty, and then again in 2006, when he made two defenders knock heads.

We saw him make The Catch on a slant over the middle to give the Commodores their first victory over Tennessee since 1982. Bennett said that game was his favorite.

This season, we saw Bennett earn first-team All-SEC honors, despite constant double teams and erratic quarterback play. And we saw him play through pain most of us have never felt.

Players like Bennett do not come around often, and while selfish Commodore fans and players would have liked to see him return for his final season, we both understand and support his decision.

To the NFL team that drafts Bennett, you will not regret it. You are not only getting a great route-runner with exceptional hands and fearless attitude, but over 6,000 new fans.

"Hopefully people will remember me by my character and not my outstanding ability on the football field," Bennett said.

How about we do both?

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.

Not so fast: Foster still faces uphill climb

Shan Foster came one step closer to fulfilling his dream when he was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft (No. 51 overall) by the Dallas Mavericks last Thursday. Still, the 2008 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer knows there is more work to be done.

Just ask Derrick Byars, the 2007 SEC Player of the Year who went No. 42 overall in last year's draft. Byars was drafted by Portland and immediately traded to Philadelphia before being waived in late October. He ended up playing overseas in Germany and then in France for defending French League champion Chorale-Roanne.

For every second-round success story (think Gilbert Arenas, Manu Ginoboli or Carlos Boozer), there are countless more like Byars. Put simply, the odds of making an NBA roster for a second-round pick are not good. The last four players drafted 51st overall are JameSon Curry, Chiekh Samb, Robert Whaley and Vassilis Spanoulis. Who? Exactly.

However, the 51st pick in the 2003 NBA Draft? None other than sweet-shooting Kyle Korver, a senior from Creighton, which brings us back to Foster. What exactly are his chances of sticking in the NBA?

First, here's what Dallas' owner, president of team operations, head coach and fans had to say about Foster.

The Mavs were very pleased that Foster fell to them at No. 51 as they look for shooters to play alongside point guard Jason Kidd.

"Coach Carlisle felt like shooting was the hole in this team and wanted to get a shooter to put around Jason," Mavericks president of team operations Donnie Nelson said. "We feel very fortunate Shan fell to us this late in the draft." [Dallas Morning News]

“He could earn some time because you’re always looking for shooting,” Nelson said. “That’s usually something that transfers from college.” []

Owner Mark Cuban said the Mavs turned down $500,000 for their pick because "we really, really like Shan."

"All you have to do is look at his YouTube tape where he had nine 3s against Mississippi State. It's incredible the range he has. [ESPN analyst] Jay Bilas said Shan couldn't hit the NBA 3, but he never even takes a college 3. I think we got a steal, but we'll see. Everybody's a hero on draft day." [DMN]

Coach Rich Carlisle is also a fan.

“We’re very happy with the guy we got. We had a list of ‘A’ candidates, ‘Bs’ and ‘Cs’ and Shan Foster was the last ‘A’ on our list.” []

Carlisle said the Mavs need someone with Foster's perimeter shooting ability. He also likes the fact that Foster was a four-year college player and praised his maturity and basketball IQ.

"He'll have a chance," Carlisle said. "He'll have to earn it, but there's opportunity here." [Mavs Blog DMN]

Finally, Dallas fans seem to be pleased with pick, judging from their comments on a Mavs blog post. A few examples:

Rodney in Atlanta:
"I'm just glad that Avery's not here anymore because this poor guy would get buried by the edge of the bench and we'd never get to see what his potential is. Like I said before. I watched this guy play many times and he has intangibles that you just can't teach. He's a very good shooter and a great feel for the game. If brought along properly, he will contribute to this team."

"And one more thing. The guy's a good player and he's smart. Vanderbilt is not for dummys. He doesn't sing half bad either."

"foster is fantastic, that was a great great pick at 51!! real good point by G, hopefully its just like Josh (Howard) where he is a conference player of the year, 4 year senior, and slips...right to the Mavs to scoop him up. the SEC Player of the year at 51, 2nd team all-american, 47% from 3 as a senior, filling a position of need for the Mavs is a tremendous pickup."

Now, let's take a look at who Foster will be competing against to make the squad:

The Mavs' 2007 second-round picks, Reyshawn Terry (6'8 SF, UNC) and Renaldas Seibutis (6'6 SG, Lithuania), played in Europe last season and Nelson said they will have a chance to make the team next season.

Joining Foster, Terry and Seibutis on the summer league team are: Keith McLeod, Aaron Miles, Derrick Low, Reggie Williams, Richie Frahm, JaJuan Smith, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Yaroslav Korolev, Charles Rhodes, James Singleton and Pape Sow.

McLeod, Miles and Smith play point guard, while Low, at just 6'2, will probably have to as well. Frahm is a journeyman SG, while Mensah-Bonsu, Korolev, Sow and Mississippi State's Charles Rhodes are forwards. However, Foster could be competing against Williams, a 6'5 SG/SF from VMI and the nation's No. 1 scorer, and Singleton, a 6'8 forward who has played for the Clippers.

And we haven't even taken a look at the Mavs' current roster, which includes:

Point guard
Jason Kidd
Tyronn Lue
Jose Barea

Shooting guard
Jason Terry


Josh Howard
Jerry Stackhouse
Devean George
Eddie Jones
Antoine Wright

UPDATE: The Mavs signed G/F Gerald Green to a one-year deal.
Dirk Nowitzki
Malik Allen
Brandon Bass
Juwan Howard


Erick Dampier
Jamaal Magloire

It's important to note that Allen, Barea, George, Juwan Howard, Lue, Magloire and Wright are all free agents. DMN's Eddie Sefko expects either Barea or Lue and Wright to return, while adding that Jones could retire if the Mavs buy out the remaining year on his contract. Dallas could also sign a couple of free agents.

Therefore, Foster will be looking for playing time at the SG and SF positions behind Terry, Howard, Stackhouse and Wright, a former first-round pick out of Texas A&M who played two and a half seasons with New Jersey before coming over to Dallas in the Jason Kidd trade last year. Wright, a 6'7 SG, is a career 42 percent shooter, including 28 percent from 3-point range.


On the positive side, the Mavs genuinely seem to like Foster, who fills a need for them. They are desperately looking for shooters, which is Foster's strength. If he shoots well this summer, it will be hard for Dallas not to keep him. None of the Mavs' current players or summer league players like Terry, Seibutis, Williams and Singleton compare to Foster as a perimeter shooter.

On the negative side, Foster is pretty one-dimensional. Terry and Seibutis have had a year to develop their skills and to get faster and stronger, which means they may have a leg up on Foster this summer. If Foster struggles to catch fire from the outside, the Mavs will have a hard time finding a spot for him on the roster.

There's going to be a lot of pressure on Foster to perform this summer, but then again, no one said making it to the NBA would be easy.

Photo: []

Vandy announces first Hall of Fame class

Vanderbilt has finally created an Athletic Hall of Fame to recognize many of the school's outstanding individuals and celebrate its rich sporting history. Individuals were nominated based on three sets of criteria:

A) Commodore Great - Letterwinners/Athletes who have brought recognition and prominence to the University and themselves by their athletic accomplishments as an undergraduate. (Criteria to be considered: All-American, All-SEC, exceptional leadership as witnessed by teammates and/or coaches.)

B) Distinguished Letterwinners - Letterwinners/athletes who have made major contributions to the University athletic program through personal time, effort, interest and through many years of continued service and/or have distinguished themselves

C) Life Time Achievement - Individuals, coaches, athletic officials, staff members and other University officials, who were not letterwinners/athletes at Vanderbilt University, yet have rendered outstanding service to the intercollegiate athletics program through personal time, effort, interest and through many years of continued service.

Individuals are not eligible until four years after they last participated in intercollegiate athletics, which means athletes like Jay Cutler, David Price, Shan Foster, Pedro Alvarez, Earl Bennett and Chris Williams (man, I've been privileged to cover a lot of truly great players) will have to wait.

A 16-member panel of Vanderbilt athletic officials, led by Kevin Colon, a director of sport operations, reviewed hundreds of nominations before choosing the inaugural class of 12 very worthy individuals. Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams said as many as 12 people will be inducted into the Hall for perhaps the next three years, and a new class will be introduced each fall, according to Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper.

There will be a special Hall of Fame weekend on September 12-13, highlighted by the Induction Banquet Friday evening and the Class of 2008 being presented at halftime of Saturday's football game against Rice. And so, without further ado...


Chantelle Anderson, women's basketball player from 1999-2003. Two-time All-American and the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,604 points. SEC Player of the Year in 2002. No. 2 player picked in 2003 WNBA Draft.

Peggy Harmon Brady, golfer from 1968-72. Paved the way for her female athletes such as her daughter Chris, who later became an All-American at Vanderbilt. Only mother-daughter All-Americans in school history.

John Hall, football player from 1951-54. First academic All-American in school history. Later became Chairman and CEO of Ashland, Inc., and president of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust.

Roy Kramer
, athletics director from 1978-90. Rebuilt Vanderbilt Stadium, renovated McGugin Center, merged men's and women's athletic department. Later became SEC commissioner and was regarded as one of the most powerful and influential leaders in collegiate athletics. Highlights include expansion of the league from 10 to 12 members, creation of the SEC Football Championship, creator of the Bowl Championship Series, unprecedented league success, $1 billion network television contract.

Clyde Lee, basketball player from 1963-66. "Colossal Clyde" played 11 seasons in the NBA after twice being named SEC Player of the Year at Vanderbilt. All-America pick in 1966, averaged school-record 15.5 rebounds per game over his career. Old-timers call Memorial Gym's second and third tiers "the balconies that Clyde built." First VU student-athlete to have his number retired and one of only three.

Dan McGugin
, head football coach from 1904-34. Winningest football coach in school history with overall record of 197-55-19. Ranks No. 20 in all-time NCAA victories and No. 22 in winning percentage. Elected to National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1951. Died in 1936.

John Rich
, football and baseball player from 1945-51. Joined VU Board of Trust in 1988 and has helped oversee the expansion and construction of several key athletics facilities.

Fred Russell
, former Nashville Banner writer (1929-98) and VU baseball player (1925-26). One of the greatest sports journalists of the 20th century. Press boxes at Vanderbilt’s football and baseball stadiums are named in his honor. Wrote an estimated 12,000 columns at the Banner, which ceased operation in 1998. Died in 2003.

June Stewart
, VU administration from 1973-91. One of the most influential women in the SEC. First female president of College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Inducted into Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame (2004) and Tennessee Sports Writers Hall of Fame (2007).

Ryan Tolbert Jackson, track and field star from 1994-98. The only Commodore to ever win an individual NCAA championship. Won the 1997 NCAA Outdoors 400 meters in 54.54, a record at that time. Holds seven outdoor and three indoor records.

Bill Wade
, football player from 1949-51. SEC Player of the Year and second-team All-American in 1951 as a quarterback and the No. 1 overall pick in the 1952 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Led Chicago Bears to 1963 World Championship.

Perry Wallace
, basketball player from 1966-1970. Would have become a premier HOF candidate even if he didn't make SEC history by becoming the league's first African-American basketball player. Star student-athlete who went on to an outstanding career in law and education. Named All-SEC as a senior. Jersey retired in 2004.

A few quick thoughts about the first HOF class:

-Wish I could have been at Memorial back in the 60's to watch Clyde Lee play. Sounds like he almost single-handedly changed the culture of Vanderbilt basketball.

-Would have loved to meet Mr. Russell, who I hear was as good as it gets.

-There are few individuals, if any, who are better representatives for this university than Perry Wallace. It took a very special and strong person to do what he did. And he was a pretty darn good basketball player too.

-I have to admit, I had never heard of Roy Kramer before this week. But, are his accomplishments impressive or what? Kramer served as SEC commissioner from 1990 to 2002 and created the BCS. You don't get much more influential than that.

-Dan McGugin is a baller. He is responsible for 197 of the football program's 546 victories (36 percent). No wonder they named a building after him.

Photo: [VU Commodores]