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The Summerpocalypse Was A Good Thing

We hated it at the time, but the Vanderbilt basketball program is in better shape because of all the players leaving.

Not shown: Photoshop of Riley LaChance in a Marquette uniform.
Not shown: Photoshop of Riley LaChance in a Marquette uniform.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Attrition isn't always a bad thing.

While sportswriters frequently bemoan the sheer number of transfers in college basketball, the notion that all the players leaving programs is always terrible for the program they're leaving... well, that's really debatable.  Where attrition hurts is when star players (or potential star players) leave.  Where it shouldn't hurt is when replacement level or worse players are leaving the program.  It does end up hurting some programs just because the coach replaces the players who left with guys who are the same caliber of player (or worse), trapping the program in perpetual mediocrity until the coach gets fired.

But at least for 2016 and beyond, the Summerpocalypse of 2013 does not hurt the Vanderbilt basketball program.  It helps.  Now, you can argue that the two seasons before would have been better with the departed players and I'll give you 2014, maybe 2015, but with the latter Vanderbilt would have had a senior-heavy roster.

To recap, here's who left the Vanderbilt program in the 2013 offseason:

  • A.J. Astroth, who last year played 15.9 mpg and averaged 3.3 ppg for Towson.
  • Sheldon Jeter, who played 14.3 mpg and averaged 4.7 ppg for a rather middling Pitt team last season.
  • Kevin Bright, currently struggling to stick in a German professional league.
  • Kedren Johnson, who got out of shape in his year off and averaged 6.7 ppg in 23.5 mpg at Memphis in 2014-15.

Now, obviously you might be able to assume that Johnson's college career would have turned out differently if he had stayed in the Vanderbilt program rather than sitting out a year.  Of course, he wouldn't be on the 2015-16 Vanderbilt team either way.

Even though technically not a part of the Summerpocalypse, we'll throw Eric McClellan (who played 145 minutes last season as Kevin Pangos' water-carrier at Gonzaga) in here as well.  McClellan got kicked off the team in the middle of the 2013-14 season.  For good measure (read: because it would make things even worse), let's assume that Darius Thompson (averaged 2.5 ppg in 16.8 mpg at Tennessee before transferring to Virginia) stuck with his commitment. Thompson verbally committed to Vandy in January 2013 and decommitted a month later, allegedly because of the projected depth chart at the point.

So, without the Summerpocalypse, what would Vanderbilt's depth chart look like heading into 2015-16?

PG: Eric McClellan, Darius Thompson

Yep... whatever you think of McClellan and Thompson, there is no Wade Baldwin IV here.  The reason is simple: were it not for all the attrition from the program in 2013-14, Stallings would have had only two scholarships available in the 2014 recruiting class -- and with Kedren Johnson still in the program along with the two players above, Stallings would not have been using either of those scholarships on a point guard.  Never mind that Baldwin would have looked at the depth chart and said "no, thanks" even if he had been offered a scholarship.  This might be slightly better just because of depth (i.e. there actually is a backup point guard), but unless you think very highly of Thompson then we would be worse off here.

SG: Kevin Bright, A.J. Astroth, Camron Justice

The 2015 recruiting class, though, would be unaffected, so Justice is still here.  Stallings still would have four scholarships to give in 2015 even with the attrition.  You might argue that Stallings would have used his scholarships differently in the situation, but you can't argue that Riley LaChance would be here.  Similar to the point, Stallings would have had three players at the two in 2014-15 (or at least he thought he would; Dai-Jon Parker did get kicked off the team last September, but that would not have been known to Stallings while he was recruiting the 2014 class.)  And with only two scholarships available, there would be no room for Riley.  Considering what Bright and Astroth have done since leaving Vandy, we'd definitely be worse off here. (Nolan Cressler isn't here either because of the same scholarship situation.)

SF: Sheldon Jeter, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Joe Toye

All right, fine.  I'll give you MFD.  With Rod Odom departing after the 2013-14 season, Stallings would have had a need for a SF to back up Jeter.  Or probably play ahead of Jeter, because MFD is a better player.  Roberson isn't here because Stallings probably wouldn't have used both his scholarships on players at the three, though.  Of course you could argue that Fisher-Davis looks at the depth chart situation differently if Jeter (and, honestly, Bright) is still here and decides to go elsewhere, and I won't really argue with you.  So substitute Jeff Roberson for MFD in your mind if you want.

PF: (unknown sophomore PF), Samir Sehic

On the other hand, Stallings definitely would have used a scholarship on a power forward in the 2014 class.  Under this scenario, Vandy would have otherwise had two power forwards on the roster in 2014-15, both of them would have been seniors, and one of them would have been Shelby Moats, so PF was a definite position of need.  I'll let you speculate as to who that player would be.  If you're asking "where's Luke?", well, the answer to that is that if Thompson had stuck with his commitment and Astroth hadn't transferred out, Vandy wouldn't have had a scholarship available for Luke Kornet.  (In fairness, though, you might have a reasonable argument that Frank Kornet would be willing to pay his son's way at Vandy and Luke could have come here as a walk-on even if there had been no scholarship available.  But that's if you want to be optimistic about this, and that is not the point of this article.)

C: Josh Henderson, Damian Jones, D'jery Baptiste

Well, at least we still have Damian, assuming that Damian did not come to the conclusion that his teammates are holding him back and he should just go to the NBA.  I don't really have much comment here since this is the one position where the depth chart is unchanged compared to how it actually looks.

The point is, though, that attrition from the program in 2013 wound up helping the team in 2015 and beyond, and credit for that goes to Kevin Stallings.  Stallings didn't panic when all those players left the program and add some short-term fixes to get better depth for 2013-14, instead figuring he could weather a down year and come back with even better players than the ones who had left the program.  And that's a lot different from what many coaches would have done in the same situation.  Plug the holes with JUCOs and transfers, and maybe you get a slightly better team in 2013-14 -- but you're not set up so damn well for 2016 and 2017 like Vanderbilt is now.  Or even worse would have been to sign players who were of a similar caliber to the ones who left and keep pumping out .500ish seasons.  Or worse.