published Friday, October 28th, 2011

Even Vandy coach can shoot

HOOVER, Ala. -- How good is Vanderbilt this basketball season?

Even the Commodores' coach can hit it from midcourt.

"It happened at our Memorial Madness," coach Kevin Stallings said Thursday during the Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Day at the Wynfrey Hotel.

"A couple of the women's players were trying half-court shots. When I was just out of college, I started practicing this shot where I go behind my back like a pass, only I shoot it at the basket. I almost never make it, but this time I did."

He even made it on the first try. So if you're looking for a Final Four omen for a team the coaches already have ranked seventh nationally in their preseason poll, that bit of Stallings magic might be a good place to start.

Or perhaps you'd prefer to go with the real shooter on the Commodores -- junior John Jenkins, who led the USA's World University Games team in scoring with 13.5 points a game.

"Yeah, I think Coach Stallings tried that shot on me when he was recruiting me," said Jenkins, who grew up in Hendersonville, Tenn.

"Something like, 'If I hit this, you have to come to Vanderbilt.' Then he actually hit the shot in my high school gym. But I'd already decided to go there anyway."

So many good players have decided to go there in recent years that the Commodores have three players named to either the All-SEC preseason first or second teams among their five returning starters.

Jenkins and senior forward Jeffrey Taylor made the first team with senior Festus Ezeli slotted for the second unit.

Asked why all three turned down possible NBA riches to return to Vandyland, Jenkins said, "We didn't come here to stay two or three years and leave. We came here to hang a banner, and we haven't done that yet."

No less than Kentucky coach John Calipari -- whose third straight freshman-dominated team is picked to win the league -- said of the Commodores, "Vanderbilt will be tough to beat with [our] four freshmen."

But the bigger question for Jenkins on Thursday was whether or not he could beat his coach in a game of H-O-R-S-E if Stallings broke out his behind-the-back half-courter.

"He might win with that shot," joked Jenkins, who hit 40 percent of his 3-pointers last season in leading the SEC in scoring (19.5 ppg). "But I'd win with every other shot."

NO NIT NEGATIVE

No major college basketball team's goal is to get to the National Invitation Tournament instead of the NCAA tournament, and last year's Alabama team was no exception to that rule.

"But the NIT was a great experience for us," Crimson Tide senior JaMychal Green said of Bama's runner-up finish to Wichita State.

"We thought we deserved to be in the NCAA tourney after beating Kentucky at our place and beating Georgia twice, but when we didn't get a bid, we went to the NIT with a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to prove to everyone that we could compete."

The Tide's strong showing and the return of Bama's top three scorers are two reasons why Bama is No. 17 in the coaches' national preseason poll.

"It was huge for our program," third-year coach Anthony Grant said. "It was the first opportunity for our guys to play in the postseason. Hopefully we'll want to go back badly enough that we'll earn an NCAA bid this time."

BIG ORANGE HOPE?

Though this week's preseason media poll tabbed the Tennessee men to finish 11th in the 12-team league, first-year Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin thinks his squad can improve on that.

"We have enough bodies to be competitive," he said. "We have enough energy, too. We've been at it for a couple of weeks now and we've had maybe one day where I thought the intensity was lacking."

He also has a message for those who believe his defense-first-last-and-always philosophy will translate to low-scoring games.

"There's a misconception that guys who stress defense want to walk the ball up the court," Martin said. "I always want to score the ball. My last two years at Missouri State we were second in scoring last year and first the year before that."

TERRENCE TELLS IT

When SEC preseason player of the year Terrence Jones was asked how he scored 52 points in Kentucky's Blue-White scrimmage on Wednesday night, he smiled and said, "Bad defense."

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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