A pair of guards will be leaving the Vanderbilt basketball program after being granted a release from their scholarships, paving the way for the Commodores to add to their already impressive recruiting haul for 2018. Guards Payton Willis and Larry Austin Jr. will not return to the program in 2018-19, creating space for the team to add five-star prospect Romeo Langford should he choose Vandy.
The departures are a blow to the program’s backcourt depth, but should be an easy fix. Willis, a 6’4 combo guard, made only four starts last season despite Matthew Fisher-Davis’s season-ending shoulder injury. He averaged 5.1 points per game on just 34.8% shooting. Austin, who transferred into the program and spent two years in Nashville before transferring out, played just 11 minutes per game in his one eligible season with the ‘Dores.
The emergence of Saben Lee as a lane-splitting dynamo and the impending arrival of five-star point guard Darius Garland meant neither player was lined up for a major role with the team in 2018-19. These transfers should help Willis and Austin, each useful D-1 players, find programs that can give them more playing time next season (for grad transfer Austin) and beyond.
Then there’s the other shoe waiting to drop. Langford, a 6’6 shooting guard from New Albany, IN, has Vanderbilt in his final three schools and will make his college decision in the coming weeks. Rumors have been swirling that he’s leaning toward the Commodores in order to round out a top-three national recruiting class, but there’s no official word yet.
If he chooses Vandy, it would leave one more available scholarship for 2018-19. That could go to four-star guard T.J. Moss or five-star forward E.J. Montgomery; both have scholarship offers on the table, though neither one appears to be particularly high on the Commodores at the moment.
With Willis and Austin departing, Vanderbilt’s potential depth chart for next season looks something like this:
PG: Darius Garland/Maxwell Evans
PG/SG: Saben Lee
SF: Joe Toye/Aaron Nesmith/Matt Ryan
PF: Clevon Brown/Simi Shittu (once healthy)/Ejike Obinna
C: D’Jery Baptiste/Yanni Wetzel
There’s a lot of talent and flexibility on that roster, which would favor a small-ball lineup to highlight the team’s strength in the backcourt and wings (note: those positions aren’t official, just basic labels not every player fits inside neatly. Players listed at SF will play PF, etc). That makes picking up another scorer like Langford important — and if he can lure a useful big man like Montgomery to campus, that’d be even better.