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Bryce Drew isn't the biggest hire for Vanderbilt, but he's the right hire

A look at Bryce Drew's career and what Vanderbilt can offer him suggests this is the right fit for Commodore basketball.


Just check the list of Division I basketball teams in alphabetical order and it will tell you. Vanderbilt comes after Valparaiso.

So really, David Williams and the Commodores are just going by the book by hiring Crusader head coach Bryce Drew to fill Kevin Stallings' shoes on the Memorial Gym baseline.

News broke that Drew and Vanderbilt had come to terms early on Monday morning. After a week of searching, the Commodores had their first new coach since 1999.

Realistically, Drew was probably the team's second or third choice. Depending on who you believe, Vanderbilt was the latest in a long line of teams to woo -- and be rejected by -- Wichita State's Gregg Marshall. Behind him, Drew and VCU coach/Nashville native Will Wade were options 2a and 2b, or vice versa. However, while Wade locked down a lucrative extension to stay in Virginia, Drew's popularity grew as the coaching carousel turned. Georgia Tech made overtures for the 41-year old, but ultimately lost the battle for his services.

So what's Vanderbilt getting in its latest athletics hire? Drew is a proven winner -- in the Horizon League. He's pushed the Crusaders to the top of the mid-major conference to fill the void left by Butler's departure. His team has won the league's regular season title in four of the last five seasons. He'll have to scale that performance up when he jumps to the SEC, but this isn't the frying pan/fire situation most Power 5 jobs represent. He's coming to a Southeastern Conference with one power at the top of the standings (Kentucky) and then a hailstorm of question marks in the standings beneath them.

While there's a significant difference between beating Northern Kentucky twice a year and doing the same to Tennessee, this isn't the ACC or the Big Ten. Drew's schedule will be soft enough to accommodate his learning curve.

There's another huge aspect of the Vanderbilt job that will shrink his adjustment period. He's inheriting a talented roster that meshes with the free-shooting strategy that carried him to four league titles at Valparaiso. Even if you assume Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones are headed to the NBA, here's what he'll be working with as a first-year coach. Keep in mind, this lineup doesn't include any new recruits or transfers who could fill the scholarships left behind by departing players.

PGRiley LaChance / Payton Willis
WingsMatthew Fisher-DavisJeff Roberson / Joseph Toye / Camron JusticeNolan CresslerPhillip McGloin
Big menLuke KornetSamir Sehic / D'Jery Baptiste / Clevon Brown

While Vanderbilt's situation at the point is dicey -- he would have to bet that LaChance's horrible slump was temporary or turn to a true freshman combo guard -- the Commodores provide Drew with at least two potential NBA talents (Kornet and Fisher-Davis), one of the best two-way small forwards in the conference (Roberson), a slashing, rising wing (Toye), another deadeye three-point shooter (Justice), and a tiny Hulk who loves blocking shots and country music (Baptiste).

That lineup isn't the darkhorse Final Four contender this season's roster was hyped to be, but it's more than talented enough to return this team to the NCAA Tournament.

Let's take a look at Drew's postseason record. In five seasons, he's been to a pair of NCAA Tournaments, two NITs, and a CIT. Excluding the CIT, because who cares, he's 4-4 as a coach after the conference tournaments have wrapped. Three of those four losses came to teams that were seeded at least five slots higher than the Crusaders. This spring, he guided Valpo past Florida State, St. Mary's, and BYU to finish as runner-up at the NIT.

That's not a spotless record, but it's still a strong resume for a head coach who operated with a quarter of the resources Vanderbilt could provide him. Drew led the Crusaders to March relevance despite luring recruits to an arena that holds just over 5,400 fans at a university whose enrollment clocks in at 4,500. Valparaiso hasn't had a player drafted since Drew himself back in 1999. And while I'm sure Valparaiso, IN is a charming town, I'm not as certain it can compete with Nashville in terms of recruiting power.

Now, he'll have the chance to build on that success with Vanderbilt's backing. He can sell NBA talent like Festus Ezeli and Wade Baldwin when chasing recruits. He can point to Memorial Gym's unique layout (and his own 17-1 home record in 2015-16) as evidence his players will have a home court advantage like no other. He can point to his own players at Valpo, guys like All-American Alec Peters, and showcase how he's developed players in the past.

That's one hell of a sales pitch.

Finally, look at this acquisition from Bryce Drew's perspective. The man could have run for mayor of Valparaiso, IN. His father, Homer Drew, made the program a hardwood power in a basketball-hungry state over the course of 24 years as head coach. His harried, game-winning three-pointer against Ole Miss is the university's defining athletic moment. In five seasons at the Crusaders' head coach, he's won 124 games -- nearly 72 percent of his matchups. He's never had a losing campaign.

In short, Bryce Drew was set for life at Valparaiso.

But when Vanderbilt came calling, he grabbed for the brass ring the Commodores offered (and rejected Georgia Tech along the way). A man in his situation wouldn't do that unless he knew he could win. Drew took a look at this current roster, factored in the recruiting advantages Kevin Stallings had used to lure and build talent in Nashville, and decided this was the place to continue his legacy. That's a huge affirmation for Vanderbilt basketball.

That talented roster and recruiting edge isn't the only thing that will make Drew's transition a smooth one. The Valparaiso coach is a top candidate to keep Kevin Stallings' three-point heavy offensive attack alive at Memorial Gym.

Vanderbilt Valparaiso
Year 3pt attempted 3pt % 3pt attempted 3pt %
2015-16 21.64 38.20% 22.41 35.90%
2014-15 18.60 39.20% 18.24 38.10%
2013-14 19.32 31.90% 18.35 37.30%
2012-13 22.24 35.00% 20.00 37.20%
2011-12 22.11 38.90% 19.79 34.00%

Drew's history as a head coach suggests Vandy's three-point streak won't end under his watch. Especially not with shooters like Matthew Fisher-Davis, Jeff Roberson, and Camron Justice on the roster.

So Drew wasn't the first name on most people's wish list, but a look at his career shows he's the right choice to build on the foundation Stallings left him in Nashville. Vanderbilt can give him the resources and opportunity he needs to make the leap from mid-major standout to high-major icon. His proven record of success both in the record books and developing talent suggest his winning ways will scale up with him as he makes the jump to the SEC.

If Drew bring that success south with him to Vanderbilt, the Commodores won't sweat any wasted meetings from the past week.