Dai-Jon Parker has some big shoes to fill. He's tasked with replacing one of the most prolific scorers in Vanderbilt basketball history. Fortunately, he won't have to light up the scoreboard to make a big impact for the Commodores in 2012-2013.
Parker isn't the pure scorer that All-SEC standout John Jenkins was, but he will provide a more athletic presence than his NBA-employed counterpart. While Jenkins was able to improve his defense each year that he played at Vanderbilt, he still struggled to stay in front of quicker wings. Along with Brad Tinsley, the two composed a backcourt that could shoot this team into ballgames but also struggled to contain the SEC's more athletic guards.
Vanderbilt shouldn't have that problem in 2012-2013. The team's three-man rotation at the 1-2 positions will showcase three high level defenders who all have different strengths to provide on-the-ball pressure. Parker is the best pure athlete of the three, and his combination of speed and strength should help him develop into the next Vandy player to earn All-SEC Defensive Team honors. Kedren Johnson, who is expected to start at point guard, has the size and length to cover three positions, and the quickness to keep up with smaller opponents. Kyle Fuller is a more frenetic defender than either player and uses his body well to prevent other guards from getting into the lane.
Parker won't be able to replace Jenkins's shooting presence in 2012-2013, but Kevin Stallings won't be asking him to. Instead, this team will rely on him to score naturally while using his defense to close the scoring gap in tight games. If Parker and his cohorts can shut down opposing guards like Michael Dixon Jr., Trae Golden, and Kenny Boynton, then that will take plenty of pressure off a Vanderbilt team that doesn't really know where its scoring will come from just yet.
The Commodores will turn to a core of young players behind Parker, including a pair of 2012 recruits. Let's take a look at how the position shakes down for the upcoming season.
Dai-Jon Parker (6'3", 190 lbs): Parker was Vanderbilt's highest-rated recruit of the class of 2011, and he'll be counted on to replace a two-time SEC scoring champion in 2012.
The sophomore will earn the task of replacing one of the most prolific scorers in Commodore history when he steps into John Jenkins's former spot in the starting lineup. Parker will look to regain the scoring stroke that made him a top 50 player in high school while providing the solid defense that he displayed in his first season in Nashville. Parker was a streaky shooter last year, showing a willingness to launch threes but lacking the adjustments to make more than 25 percent of his attempts.
He'll have the opportunity to gain more confidence in steady minutes as a sophomore, as he'll be counted on to provide much of this team's scoring from his SG spot. He wasn't a big presence in the lane last season - he didn't need to be with an abundance of scorers on the team - but he'll have to work harder to get to the basket and score around the rim in 2012-2013. He has the speed and explosiveness to make that a reality, especially with another year of experience under his belt.
Parker is a bit undersized at 6'3" and 190 pounds, but he has the strength and athleticism to make up that lack of height a moot point. He'll provide a very different presence than Jenkins did before him, but could develop into an equally valuable contributor if he can be the lockdown backcourt defender that this team has lacked under Kevin Stallings. The sophomore has the skills to chase opposing guards all over the court and stay in front of them; if he can add a consistent outside shot to his game, he'll emerge as a star in the SEC.
A.J. Astroth (6'6", 190 lbs): Astroth, a skinny shooter from Tampa, Florida, could be Jenkins's spiritual successor in Nashville this year.
Astroth wasn't a heralded recruit in the traditional sense, but he did choose Vanderbilt over offers from Stanford, Providence, and South Carolina en route to a three-star ranking. While he's a bit one-dimensional, the area that he excels in is one that Kevin Stallings emphasizes. The 6'6" freshman can shoot the lights out from long range and should get immediate playing time as a sniping specialist in Vanderbilt's offense. He's long enough to reach over defenders and has the kind of quick release that will prevent opponents from slumping away from his corner of the floor.
Like Jenkins before him, Astroth will have to expand his skillset during his time at Memorial Gym. While he's quick enough to get past defenders and into the paint, he's not much of a finisher or distributor just yet. He'll have to work hard to become a three-dimensional threat for the Commodores. Fortunately for him, he'll have plenty of opportunities to improve in a game setting as Vandy rebuilds this winter. Defensively, he'll have to add some more bulk to deal with the SEC's bigger wings, but he's got the length to be a hassle if he can keep up with the speed of the NCAA game.
Kevin Bright (6'5", 210 lbs): Bright is Vanderbilt's latest foreign import. The German freshman is a versatile player who can fill either wing spot thanks to a sturdy frame and above-average athleticism. Bright has the ability to shoot from long range but also looks to be a better slasher than his classmate Astroth. That ability should help set him apart on a team that will need someone to get into the lane and create openings for his teammates on the perimeter.
The big question about Bright will be his ability to adapt to the NCAA game after spending his life overseas. Fortunately, his experience on the German National Under-18 team should have helped bring him up to speed in terms of facing the strongest competition in the world. Bright made a name for himself as a player with his ability to play hard-nosed defense in Germany, but it was his development as a scorer that made him a priority target for Kevin Stallings last summer. Bright was also recruited by Cal, Utah, Maryland, and North Carolina State.
His flexibility and ability to defend at shooting guard and small forward will likely give him a rotation spot in his first year on campus. Which role he fills will likely come down to how Vandy utilizes stretch forwards like Rod Odom and Sheldon Jeter in front of him. Bright's experience should make him the Commodores' most stable freshman in their class of '12.
Kyle Fuller (6'1", 205 lbs): There's some thought that Fuller could end up playing some SG this season, which would make some sense. He's just a couple inches smaller than Parker and provides the a similar frenetic energy on defense as his sophomore counterpart. However, that's quite a shift for a player who is a stronger passer than scorer right now. Fuller would be counted on to space the floor as a shooter, and he struggled mightily from three-point range in 2011-2012, failing to make a basket from behind the arc.
Still, he's a veteran leader whose steadiness could be an asset on the court. Kedren Johnson's length at point guard could make a backcourt with both of Vandy's point guards a defensive reality.