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Skeptics will become believers when Vandy puts it together


Kevin Stallings on Jeff Taylor and Co.: 'We've got some guys who are really athletic.' (Getty Images)  
Kevin Stallings on Jeff Taylor and Co.: 'We've got some guys who are really athletic.' (Getty Images)  

NASHVILLE -- They have three future pros in the starting lineup -- one who can shoot from anywhere, another who can dunk from anywhere and another who looks like he could bench press a practice facility. The point guard? He's the same point guard who led the league in assists last season. And the two top-100 recruits who enrolled provide depth to a roster that features a total of eight returning rotation players.

So get out of here with your Vanderbilt stereotypes.

That's what I'm trying to say.

And that's what Kevin Stallings is saying, too.

"We're not private-school white kids who can shoot, which is the stereotype; we've got pros," Stallings told me after a recent practice at Memorial Gym. "Now we do have some guys who can really shoot and some guys who are really smart. But we've also got some guys who are really athletic and pretty beastly. We like our mix. We like the composition of our team."

As do I.

And I know what you're thinking: Just stop it, Parrish. And tell Stallings to stop it, too ... at least until he wins a game in the NCAA tournament. Because he hasn't done that since 2007, and I just can't take his Commodores seriously anymore.

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To that I say, fine.

I hear you.

But this Vanderbilt team is different and this season will go differently. I can't guarantee an Elite Eight because the lose-and-go-home nature of the Field of 68 has a way of producing upsets, evidence being how Vanderbilt has lost its past three NCAA tournament games despite being a higher seed each time. It has been a rough go. Nobody denies that. But it should be noted that Florida's Billy Donovan once lost in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament five straight years, then broke through and won two national championships. Almost nobody remembers that, but it's true and proof that even Hall of Famers can struggle in our country's greatest postseason event.

Will Stallings snap his trend in such grand fashion?

Almost certainly not.

But I won't be surprised when his Commodores -- his uniquely talented and experienced Commodores -- have their own version of a breakthrough this March. They will get a high seed. They will advance, I promise. Brad Tinsley does, too.

"It's been a thing on our backs the past couple of years, losing in the first round, and it's 100 percent our fault," said Tinsley, the senior point guard who averaged 10.6 points and an SEC-best 4.5 assists last season. "The coaching staff is too good, and this program is too good, for us to finish that way again."

"We aren't satisfied with what we've done," added John Jenkins, a Preseason First-Team All-American who averaged a league-best 19.5 points per game last season. "We want to win an SEC championship. We want to go far in the NCAA tournament. We want to leave a legacy, but we look at the banners hanging every day, and we don't see any of our years up there."

Which is among the reasons Jenkins is back on campus. The 6-foot-4 guard was, like teammates Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli, projected as a borderline first-round pick in last June's NBA Draft. He could've gone in the 20s or the 50s or anywhere in between. It's impossible to know for sure. But rather than risk it, Jenkins, just like his two teammates, decided to instead return to Vanderbilt and try to leave a mark, and now the Commodores are ranked seventh in the Preseason Top 25 (and one).

"When those three came back it was a huge blessing," Tinsley said. "It could've gone either way. They could've entered the draft. But they made mature decisions, and now we're just that much more talented, that much stronger, that much more experienced and that much more intelligent, and when you have those things on your team it's a pretty good recipe for success."

Even postseason success.

So be skeptical if you want.

Again, I understand.

But you'll see.

Come March, you'll see.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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