Vanderbilt basketball has seen a lot of bold players pass through its ranks. Clyde Lee was the first superstar to call Memorial Gym home. Will Perdue left his mark on campus by becoming Vandy's first and only Lottery pick. Matt Freije perfected the can't miss pick-up line "Hey. I'm Matt Freije..." But none of these players could live up to the boldness of a diminutive combo guard named "Red."
Alex Gordon invented the term "Swagger Guard" in his four years on campus. He exemplified the Commodore spirit that turned Vanderbilt from a SEC also-ran into a perennial contender. He yelled at players, coaches, fans, mascots, and referees. He shot threes without discretion and occasionally with his eyes closed. He once popped his jersey so hard after a dagger-shot that he ripped it right off his own back, then proceeded to dance with it like Rick Rude back in 1980s WWF.*
For all this, we loved him.
The six-foot tall (according to a generous Vandy media guide) guard came to the Commodores as a Rivals 150 recruit in an era where such players were rare for Kevin Stallings. As a freshman, he didn't disappoint. Only a few months into his NCAA career, Gordon poured in 30 points in his first home game against Tennessee. On that night, a monster was born.
Fans at Memorial Gym loved the speedy guard who could hit a shot from anywhere on the court. The freshman who had worked his way into a starting role was the wave of the future for the team, and the Vanderbilt faithful let him know it. Gordon loved the recognition from the Memorial Maniacs, and this admiration led down an entirely awesome path.
Like in pro wrestling, a new persona was born. Gordon was gone. Alex F-ing Gordon had arrived.
Gordon carried himself with the swagger that would drive the Commodores to new heights. Guys like Shan Foster, Derrick Byars, and A.J. Ogilvy may have gotten more publicity, but Gordon was the anchor that gave the team license to soar. His attitude fit perfectly amongst a team of players with something to prove. Guys like Foster, Byars, Ross Neltner, and Alan Metcalfe fed off his energy, which carried over to the home crowd.
This Red-generated current surged through Memorial Gym, giving the 'Dores the biggest home-court advantage in the SEC (though, as many will point out, our bench configuration helped as well). Two different #1 ranked teams fell in Nashville during Gordon's tenure. Kentucky once trailed 11-44 at the half to a similarly talented Commodore team. The team went 19-0 on the raised stage of Ingram Court in 2007-2008. In the midst of all this stood Alex Gordon, taking step-back threes early in the shot clock, then turning back down the court, grabbing his jersey, and screaming "I'M ALEX F-ING GORDON!"
He taught Jermaine Beal how to blow open a fast break with a dagger three. He drove into the lane with reckless abandon, daring players like Al Horford and Joakim Noah to block his lay-ups (full disclosure: they often did). He went hard in practice and made the players around him better. He made mistakes and was never a pure point guard. He was loud, obnoxious, and hated by opponents, but he was the blood that coursed through some of the best teams to ever play basketball in Memorial Gym.
My favorite Gordon moment came in my favorite Vanderbilt game of all time. Shan Foster's NBA Jam-esque three-point shooting rampage had kept the Commodores alive at Senior Night in 2008 - a game they needed to win to secure a perfect record at home. Despite trailing Mississippi State for most of the game (in front of a student section that was PACKED with MSU fans), Foster's scoring sent the game into overtime. The team trailed by two as the clocked ticked down, and Gordon had the ball.
Foster had commanded a double-team at the top of the key, so Gordon ran down the sideline, stopped, and squared to shoot. The Bulldogs' defense keyed on him, knowing that he was just insane enough to take the shot. A section of Vandy fans collectively gasped "Noooooo." Gordon rose into the air, lifted his arms - and then fired off a pass to a now-open Foster.
Shan Foster drained the three. The perfect home season intact. Senior Night was saved. All because everyone in the gym knew that Alex F-ing Gordon had the swagger to put up a game-winning three while being double-covered. When it came down to it, he did what it took to pull the Commodores to victory.
Just like he did all four years in Nashville.