<span style="font-size: 12.0pt; font-family: Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family: Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-hansi-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family: "Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font: minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US;">Kevin Stallings doesn’t sound like a man who lost an all-league big man and his starting point guard, which also happen to be his top two scorers, from a year ago.
``I like my team,” the Vanderbilt coach said.
This isn’t just coach-speak, either. Stallings means it.
Those looking in from the outside are concerned about the lack of a low-post presence now that A.J. Ogilvy opted to leave school after his junior season – and also worried whether Brad Tinsley can replace Jermaine Beal in running the team.
``People stereotype Brad as a shooting guard,” Stallings said. ``But we recruited him as a point guard. We told him he’d play primarily the two-guard his first couple of years and then he’d be out full-time point once Jermaine graduated.”
Stallings said that Tinsley may not have terrific speed, but he’s got terrific stamina and is the son of a coach.
``Not only do I not worry about Brad, I think it’ll be a position of strength for us,” Stallings said. ``I’m not the least bit worried.”
The strength of the Commodores team will be on the perimeter where it’ll be Tinsley at the point and one of the elite wings in the nation, Jeffery Taylor, along with arguably the country’s top shooter in John Jenkins.
Stallings said that Taylor’s perimeter shot isn’t the only facet of his game that has improved. He’s also leading the team in assists thus far in practice.
``He’s making plays for others,” Stallings said. ``He’s been unbelievable. The hardest thing to improve is passing because it’s not something you can work on in the summer, but he’s come back and is hitting guys in the hands.”
The ultra-athletic Taylor, whose strength is his ability to get to the basket and also defend, is the best all-around player Stallings has ever had in Nashville.
And he’s had a trio of SEC Player of the Year winners: Derrick Byars, Shan Foster and Dan Langhi.
``He’s as complete on both ends as anyone we’ve had here,” Stallings said. ``And he’s the most athletic player I’ve ever coached as a head coach or an assistant.”
Then you’ve got Jenkins, a light-out shooter who shot 48.3 percent from beyond the arc as a freshman last season.
The key could be inside – where it’ll likely be Andre Walker and Festus Ezeli in the starting lineup.
Walker started 31 games a year ago and averaged 6.1 points an 5.4 boards while Ezeli backed up Ogilvy and averaged less than 13 minutes per contest.
That means it’s a starting lineup consisting of two redshirt juniors, two true juniors and a sophomore – with key reserves being two more juniors, Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang.
Don’t expect the post duo of Ezeli and Tchiengang to put up as many points as what the trio of Ogilvy, Ezeli and Tchiengang combined for a year ago (it was 20.6 ppg), but they’ll be more effective on the defensive end and on the glass.
Stallings said freshman Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller will both make their way into the rotation, but it’ll be difficult to supplant his veterans when the game’s on the line.
``I like our team,” Stallings reiterated numerous times throughout our conversation. ``They play hard, are very coachable and try to do everything you ask.”
BIG SKY ADDITIONS
Southern Utah and North Dakota are both headed to the Big Sky in 2012.
The move was made official yesterday – and from all indications, South Dakota will be joining the league as well.
Southern Utah goes from the Summit while both North Dakota and South Dakota will move from the Great West. South Dakota was, in fact, slated to join the Summit next year.
RANDOM NOTES: Michigan State guard Korie Lucious will miss tonight’s exhibition game and the season-opener against Eastern Michigan as part of a two-game suspension for the DWI he received back in September. … As first reported by Scout.com’s Evan Daniels, Rutgers commit Kadeem Jack has left South Kent (Conn.) and could enroll at Rutgers in January. The other option is transferring to another prep school. … Daniels also broke the news yesterday morning that one-time Duke pledge Tyler Adams has committed to Georgetown. … Speaking of Duke, it appears as though the Blue Devils will receive a pledge from point guard Quinn Cook. … New Hofstra coach Mo Cassara is making inroads locally and grabbed a commitment from Malik Nichols out of Boys & Girls in Brooklyn. … Grapevine (Texas) forward Daniel Green has committed to Wake Forest – according to multiple reports.