Yesterday's announcement that all three of Vanderbilt's potential early entry candidates were coming back to campus might have been the best news Kevin Stallings has heard since Derrick Byars chose Nashville as his transfer destination. John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli have all decided to return to campus for their third, fourth, and fifth years with the Commodores, respectively. The end result is the deepest and most talented team that may have ever played in Memorial Gym.
To be fair, we've been saying that for a while now. Great things have been expected of Stallings's recruiting class of '08 since Taylor, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne, and Steve Tchiengang stepped on campus. They were supposed to provide the depth that would carry this team deep into the NCAA Tournament in their sophomore and junior seasons. Now, their time in Nashville is almost up, and the Commodores have little to show for it. Ezeli, a year older but part of the same graduating class thanks to a redshirt freshman year, is in the same situation.
Here's how the depth chart tentatively looks for next season. Keep in mind that redshirt decisions and some positional choices are still far from being made.
The 'Dores have three potential NBA first-round draft picks at shooting guard, small forward, and center. They have a senior point guard that led the SEC in assists last year and who only got better as the year progressed. Their starting power forward is one of the best rebounders in the conference and a consistent double-double threat. Those are your 2011-2012 starters.
Behind the senior-laden front line is a reserve squad unlike any other seen on campus. Fuller, Johnson, Parker, Siakam, and Odom were all Rivals Top 150 recruits, and they're just the second team.
Henderson gives the 'Dores another legit center to rest Ezeli and let super-sixth-man Steve Tchiengang exist more as a hybrid 4/5 who can stretch the floor with his shooting. Parker may be this team's savior when they need someone to shut down a Rotnei Clarke or Bruce Ellington situation. Odom showed that he fits as a starter on this team despite his lack of experience as a freshman, and will come into 2011 on the Jeffery Taylor horsemeat diet to bulk up at PF. In short, this is the deepest team that Vanderbilt may have ever fielded.
2011-2012 is lining up to be a special year for the Commodores. The team is flush with talent, but more importantly it's full of guys who have grown together in Nashville and love playing for Kevin Stallings. This is a rare mix of talent and cohesion that will make Vanderbilt one of the most talked about teams of the preseason. The next step is living up to the eventual hype.
As long as the team is fortunate enough to avoid significant injuries, they'll have a chance to be even better than people are saying that they can be. Combine this talent with the team's vendetta against first-round upsets in the NCAA Tournament and you've got more positive factors in play for this team than almost any other squad in the country. Get your tickets for Senior Night as soon as you possibly can - you aren't going to want to miss out on anything in 2012.