After much gnashing of teeth over a local prospect who ultimately chose Alabama over the Commodores, the early signing period came and went with Kevin Stallings inking two prospects -- PG Payton Willis (Fayetteville, AR) and PF Clevon Brown (San Antonio, TX/Churchill.)
While in theory, Vanderbilt should have one scholarship available in the spring signing period -- technically only two players are scheduled to leave the program, but it's a fait accompli that Damian Jones will be gone after this season -- most signs point to Stallings being done recruiting for the 2016 class. Vanderbilt is still pursuing 6'8", 190-pound SF Richard Freudenberg (Munich, Germany/Bayern Munich), but 247's Crystal Ball is unanimous in thinking that Freudenberg is bound for St. John's.
Scholarship Chart (Projected)
|PG||Carter Josephs||Wade Baldwin IV||Payton Willis|
|SG||Nolan Cressler||Riley LaChance||Camron Justice**|
|SF||Jeff Roberson||Joe Toye|
|PF||Luke Kornet||Samir Sehic||Clevon Brown|
|C||Josh Henderson||Djery Baptiste**|
|3 scholarships||4 scholarships||2 scholarships||4 scholarships|
*Jones is expected to declare for the NBA Draft after the 2015-16 season.
**Baptiste and Justice are expected to redshirt this season.
Now, one potential wrench in all of this is that Wade Baldwin IV is beginning to show up on draft boards and could conceivably go to the NBA after 2016 or 2017. Were he to depart after this season, my gut tells me Stallings would search for a point guard on the graduate transfer market -- without Baldwin, Vanderbilt's only options at the point next season would be a freshman (Willis) and a pair of non-natural point guards (LaChance and Justice.) There is also the possibility that transfers could open up a scholarship earlier than expected, but those are almost impossible to predict in advance. In this day and age, you can almost be certain that somebody will leave the program due to playing time or other issues, but it's virtually impossible to project the impact on future rosters. In other words, 2019 and 2020 are entirely speculative, leaving aside the fact that the recruits in those classes are currently 8th- and 9th-graders.
We're also assuming that both Djery Baptiste and Camron Justice will redshirt -- Baptiste hasn't played a minute this season and Justice will be eligible for a medical redshirt assuming, as is commonly thought, he will be out for the rest of the season. This actually could wind up being a blessing in disguise for the 2019-20 Vanderbilt Commodores, but that's well into the future.
2017: Focus Up Front
The most glaring thing from the chart above is that with Damian Jones and Josh Henderson departing after this season, and Luke Kornet (presumably) leaving after next season, the Commodores project to be thin up front. The only frontcourt players remaining on the roster after 2017 will be Samir Sehic, Djery Baptiste, and Clevon Brown -- and considering that none of those are a sure thing to work out, Stallings will probably be using one or two (or, hell, all three) of his available scholarships on big men. There is a slightly less pressing need for another point guard, particularly if Baldwin continues playing his way into the NBA. The wings are not really a need in the 2017 class; while Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, and Jeff Roberson all depart after 2018, wings generally have a smaller learning curve and thus that issue can be addressed later.
It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that Stallings' early focus in the 2017 class has been on big men. Several early targets are already off the board, but Vanderbilt has honed its focus on a pair of big men from the Yellowhammer State: 6'9", 225-pound PF Alex Reese (Pelham, AL) and 6'9", 215-pound Garrison Brooks (Auburn, AL). Both are rated as four-star recruits. Per 247's Crystal Ball, Vandy is presumed to be the early leader for Reese with Alabama as the main competition, while Brooks is thought to be leaning toward Mississippi State. (If you're wondering why Auburn isn't recruiting either one that hard, well, Auburn already has a commitment from a five-star in-state PF.)
Another early target is five-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu (Decatur, GA/Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy), but Obiagu seems like a longshot: 247's Crystal Ball is 100% for Kentucky in spite of the fact that John Calipari has yet to offer him a scholarship. We will see how that develops, but for right now landing one or two of the big man targets should be considered a win. You can view a full list of Vanderbilt's scholarship offers for the 2017 class here.
The 2018 Class is Going to be Huge
There are a lot of reasons for that -- the chief reason, of course, is that Wade Baldwin IV, Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, and Jeff Roberson are all scheduled to graduate in 2018. Circumstances can change, of course, but it looks early on that Vanderbilt will have four scholarships available and a ton of production to replace in the 2018 recruiting class.
It's also important for another reason: Stallings may not be around to coach this class for their entire college careers. It's long been suspected that Stallings doesn't plan to coach very long after he turns 60 -- and he turns 60 in October 2020. Should 2020-21 be Stallings' final year in Nashville, a strong recruiting class in 2018 could mean a seamless transition to a new coach.
And there is an extremely obvious early target in the 2018 class in Darius Garland (Brentwood, TN/Brentwood Academy.) Aside from being a local product, Garland is also rated as a five-star recruit and could be a potential program-changer. Stallings has also offered Javonte Smart (Baton Rouge, LA/Scotlandville Magnet), currently rated as the top point guard in the 2018 class. If that high school sounds familiar, it's the same one that produced Damian Jones -- hopefully Damian's old high school coach has a few good words to put in for the Commodores. But Smart is viewed as being difficult to pry away from his hometown Tigers.
Given how early it is in the recruiting process, offers are few and far between, and there is a lot of time for this class to develop. But the 2018 class does figure to be heavy on guards and wings -- though, of course, signing a good big man is always a good idea when you have the opportunity. Full list of current offers here.
Extending the Window
The next two years and subsequent recruiting cycles represent a great opportunity for the Vanderbilt program -- but it's one that Stallings must take advantage of.
At least for the next two seasons, Vanderbilt is in a better position than any Southeastern Conference program not named Kentucky. The pieces are in place for Vanderbilt to compete, both in the conference and nationally, at least until Riley LaChance and company graduate.
But beyond that, there is peril on the horizon. New coaches at recently dormant programs like Auburn (Bruce Pearl), Alabama (Avery Johnson), and Mississippi State (Ben Howland) are making noise on the recruiting trail, even if their teams have not yet made a mark in the conference standings, and Texas A&M and South Carolina are threatening to move up the conference standings -- while old standbys like Mark Fox and Andy Kennedy are still doing their thing. Basically, the days of taking advantage of a down SEC are numbered, and if Vanderbilt can't deliver on the court and/or on the recruiting trail (and of course, the former will help with the latter), the program could win up in bad shape after 2018. The window of opportunity is closing, and Stallings must take advantage of it before it's shut.