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Commodore Nostalgia: 2000-01 Was About Sorting Out Pieces For The Future

Vanderbilt wasn't expected to be good in Kevin Stallings' second year in Nashville, and they weren't. But this was about sorting out a six-player freshman class as much as anything else.

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On the court, Vanderbilt's record in 2000-01 might have been 15-15, and the Commodores finished last in the SEC East.  But that was pretty much expected.  As we saw when we looked at 1999-00, Jan van Breda Kolff had left behind a strong senior class but very little behind it thanks to poor recruiting and attrition; this was the year that those issues started to come to light.  Stallings recruited a six-man freshman class and was forced to play them, but while the results weren't spectacular, there were reasons to be positive about the future.

Losses
Player Pos. MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG WS Notes
Atiba Prater G 32.5 7.4 3.3 6.0 0.1 1.9 2.5 Graduated
James Strong G 30.5 10.8 4.3 4.0 0.2 1.9 2.0 Graduated
Dan Langhi F 34.4 22.1 6.0 0.8 0.3 0.4 5.3 Graduated
Rick Jones G 16.6 5.7 0.9 0.9 0.0 0.2 1.7 Dismissed from team
Sam Lekwauwa F 17.9 5.1 2.9 0.4 0.2 0.5 1.2 Left team

And the thin roster returning was exacerbated further.  Of the ten scholarship players on the 1999-00 team, three graduated, and the two freshmen on that team -- Jones and Lekwauwa -- both were gone as well.  Jones got dismissed from the team for the nebulous "violation of team rules," and later resurfaced at Murray State; Lekwauwa essentially quit the team to concentrate on academics but stayed at Vanderbilt and ultimately got his degree.  Jones cost the team depth, though Lekwauwa might have had some potential to be more than just a depth guy.

Still, when all was said and done, there were five Vanderbilt teams under Stallings that were worse than this one.  Given the fact that six of the eleven players on scholarship were freshmen, the recruiting class was (if I'm remembering correctly; recruiting information from this time period is hard to come by) not all that highly thought of, and one of those freshmen didn't even play due to injury -- this actually seems like quite an accomplishment.  Spoiler alert: the 2001-02 and 2002-03 teams, when this class was supposedly maturing (at least, that was the thought in 2000-01) and Stallings was getting more of his own players in the program, were actually a bit worse.

Newcomers
Player Yr. Pos. Notes
Brendan Plavich Fr. G Former Georgia Tech signee
Russell Lakey Fr. G
Billy Richmond Fr. G RSCI No. 75
Scott Hundley Fr. G Kentucky Mr. Basketball
Matt Freije Fr. F Kansas Mr. Basketball
Martin Schnedlitz Fr. F Tore ACL during HS senior year

As said above, recruiting info from before about 2002 is tough to find.  Hoop Scoop rated Stallings' first recruiting class 65th in the country, but that ranking didn't include Plavich -- a onetime Georgia Tech signee who flipped after Bobby Cremins got fired.

We do know that Billy Richmond was a consensus top 100 recruit, and was regarded as a big deal as he was the first Vanderbilt signee out of Memphis in about 20 years.  (Spoiler alert: Stallings quickly learned there was a reason C.M. Newton and Eddie Fogler didn't recruit Memphis, and it wasn't because they were incompetent at their jobs.  Richmond was also the last Vanderbilt signee out of Memphis -- not counting, of course, Derrick Byars, who was a transfer and also not at all representative of most prospects out of that city.)  Scott Hundley and Matt Freije both won the Mr. Basketball award in their home states, and Freije had at least some interest from Kentucky, though I can't find any indication that Kentucky ever offered him a scholarship.  Lakey, whose other offers were mostly from West Coast mid-majors, was probably the closest thing to a questionable take in this class, but he worked out fine.  Martin Schnedlitz was a different matter; he never contributed at all, but that was mostly because he was never the same after tearing his ACL during his senior year of high school.

So the 2000-01 season, in which Vanderbilt was pretty much a unanimous pick to finish last in the East -- Georgia had been bad the year before but returned basically everyone, and Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee were all talented (though Tennessee would underachieve; this was, of course, Jerry Green's last season there) -- Stallings was basically trying to figure out which of the newcomers were keepers.  And by the end of the year, there was at least one obvious answer.

Roster and Stats
# Player Ht. Year Pos. GP GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% 3FG% FT% WS Notes
4 Darius Coulibaly 7'1" Jr. C 28 1 6.8 1.0 1.0 0.1 0.4 0.0 0.296 0.591 0.3
5 Brendan Plavich 6'2" Fr. G 30 5 13.3 5.3 0.8 0.8 0.0 0.6 0.338 0.343 0.300 0.5
10 Sam Howard 6'3" Jr. G 30 11 19.7 6.4 1.8 2.1 0.0 0.4 0.343 0.292 0.741 0.4
11 Russell Lakey 6'0" Fr. G 30 27 26.6 5.4 3.0 3.1 0.1 1.8 0.399 0.362 0.451 1.5
12 Billy Richmond 6'5" Fr. G 29 18 23.4 8.8 2.4 2.2 0.1 0.8 0.348 0.196 0.726 0.1
24 Scott Hundley 6'5" Fr. G 30 4 11.4 3.3 2.3 0.8 0.0 0.4 0.453 0.300 0.750 0.9
25 Chuck Moore 6'3" Jr. G 29 28 30.7 12.0 3.5 1.8 0.0 1.1 0.394 0.350 0.797 2.1
32 Anthony Williams 6'7" Sr. F 30 15 24.7 9.1 7.9 1.7 0.2 1.1 0.495 0.257 0.732 3.0
35 Matt Freije 6'10" Fr. F 27 18 23.9 10.4 4.4 0.6 1.0 0.2 0.497 0.390 0.792 3.2
42 Martin Schnedlitz 6'10" Fr. F Redshirt
52 Greg LaPointe 6'10" Sr. C 28 25 25.6 11.5 5.4 1.8 0.8 0.7 0.556 0.500 0.697 3.5

The most striking takeaway from the 2000-01 team?  No player started every game, and literally every scholarship player on the roster started at least once, with seven players starting ten or more games.  Nine players -- everyone except Coulibaly -- averaged at least ten minutes per game, and only Chuck Moore averaged over 30 minutes.

To be sure, some of that had to do with injuries -- Greg LaPointe was dealing with the same back problems that plagued him in 1999-00, and you'll notice that five players missed at least one game.  But even if you narrow it just to SEC play, the same things hold true: nine players averaged ten minutes or more, and everybody started at least once.  As much as anything else, Stallings spent most of 2000-01 experimenting to see what worked and figuring out where all those newcomers fit into the program going forward, and at the very least there was one future star in Freije.  As a freshman, Freije might have already been Vanderbilt's best player (at least when LaPointe was particularly gimpy.)

On the other hand, Billy Richmond already looked like he wasn't worth the hype.  The Win Shares stat exposes that in spite of his scoring average (a fair 8.8 ppg), Richmond just wasn't very good as a freshman; he was basically a missed-shot-and-turnover machine who played a bigger role in the offense than he probably should have.  Considering how his career went at Memphis after getting dismissed from Vanderbilt prior to the 2001-02 season, I don't think Vanderbilt missed out on much.

As for the rest of the freshman class, Lakey looked like he would be a solid supporting player, Hundley would be a capable bench guy, and Plavich would be fine once his jumper started falling.  On the whole, the 2000 recruiting class was solid if unspectacular.  Of note, 2000-01 would be the last time until 2012-13 that Vanderbilt would get shut out of the All-SEC teams.

Schedule
Date Opponent VU Opp W L Notes
11/17/00 South Carolina State W 65 60 1 0 America's Youth Classic (Memorial Gym)
11/18/00 Western Carolina W 85 63 2 0
11/19/00 St. Joseph's W 78 76 3 0
11/22/00 James Madison W 84 70 4 0
11/24/00 East Tennessee State W 87 76 5 0
11/28/00 at Western Kentucky W 70 66 6 0
12/2/00 #11 Notre Dame L 74 77 6 1
12/5/00 Birmingham Southern W 70 65 7 1
12/9/00 Florida State W 72 60 8 1
12/16/00 Furman W 78 64 9 1
12/21/00 Wofford W 75 53 10 1
12/30/00 at Boston College L 74 97 10 2
1/6/01 #22 Ole Miss L 68 81 10 3
1/10/01 at LSU W 71 67 11 3
1/13/01 Arkansas W 81 64 12 3
1/17/01 at South Carolina L 49 57 12 4
1/20/01 at #7 Florida W 63 61 13 4
1/24/01 Georgia L 73 82 13 5
1/27/01 at Kentucky L 75 86 13 6
1/31/01 #17 Alabama W 68 62 14 6
2/3/01 at #8 Tennessee L 50 72 14 7
2/7/01 Belmont W 81 67 15 7
2/10/01 South Carolina L 65 70 15 8
2/14/01 at Georgia L 68 70 15 9
2/17/01 #22 Kentucky L 74 79 15 10
2/21/01 at Mississippi State L 63 80 15 11
2/24/01 #22 Tennessee L 70 78 15 12
2/28/01 #6 Florida L 62 72 15 13
3/3/01 at Auburn L 66 69 15 14
3/8/01 vs. Alabama L 59 78 15 15 SEC Tournament (Bridgestone Arena)

When I saw that Vanderbilt went 15-15 but 4-12 in the SEC, I kind of assumed that we'd played a crap nonconference schedule and then reality set in once SEC play hit -- but that wasn't really true.  Western Kentucky went 24-7, and Vandy beat them on the road.  There was also a home win over St. Joseph's, who made the second round of the tournament, and somehow a road win over Florida, who finished the season in the top 10.

What's more, most of the losses were close.  From the looks of it, only the game at Mississippi State and the SEC Tournament game against Alabama were really blowouts; and in the eight-game losing streak to end the season, four games were decided by five points or less.  This looked more like a young team that needed to learn how to win than anything else.  But, spoiler alert, things would get worse before they got better; the 2001-02 and (especially) 2002-03 teams would regress.