Commodores showing more athleticism early in the season

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.



RISING: LSU (11-5, 5-0) best conference start since 1981.
FALLING: Florida (17-2, 3-2), pack an extra sandwich. Florida is 1-2 in SEC road games this season.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings forecasted last October that his team would be more athletic than a season ago.
It's early, but so far Stallings has seen signs of that athletic ability on the court.
Vanderbilt, which visits Florida on Saturday at the O'Connell Center, might not have the runners or jumpers to compete at an elite level yet. But the Commodores have somewhat scrapped the perception of a team that needs to out-think an opponent in order to beat them.
That was evident in its Southeastern Conference opener at Kentucky, where the Commodores out-muscled the Wildcats inside for their first win ever at Rupp Arena and first win in Lexington since 1974. For the season, Vandy is on the NCAA Tournament bubble at 12-4 and 3-2 in the SEC.
"We're more athletic, but again, I'm not saying that we're at the same athletic level of all of the teams in our conference," Stallings said. "Our skill level also has improved. We've been able to compete a little bit more athletically and it's shown up in some areas of our play."
The emergence of 6-foot-7, 215-pound sophomore forward DeMarre Carroll (10.2 ppg) has helped. Carroll tied a career high with 22 points last Saturday against Mississippi State, with many baskets coming in transition or on drives to the basket.
Sophomore Alex Gordon, a former option quarterback at Pensacola High, has taken over as the starter at point guard.
Stallings said he still recruits skill level over athletic ability, but acknowledged that both teams are looking for the best combination of both.
"Most teams in this league have a terrific balance when it comes to players that are skilled and athletic," Stallings said. "We're looking for the best balance we can find."
While Vandy hasn't scrapped its traditional Princeton motion offense that relies heavily on cuts and screens, the Commodores have players that can get out on the break on occasion. That wasn't the case a season ago, when Florida was able to run Vandy off the court in a surprising 82-65 win in Nashville.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is concerned with Vanderbilt wing players Shan Foster and Derrick Byars. Foster, a 6-6 sophomore, is fifth among SEC scorers at 16.3 points per game. Byars, a junior who transferred from Virginia, is scoring 11.5 points per contest.
Donovan compared the tandem to former Georgia wings Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams. Foster earned all-SEC freshman honors last season and averaged 14.5 points in two games against Florida.
"Kevin does a good job moving him around and creating shots," Donovan said. "He's got a very good feel and he's a good, hard cutter."
Crowd control The subject of crowd control was again a hot topic during Thursday's conference-wide teleconference.
Tennessee was the third school fined $5,000 under the league's access to competition policy after fans stormed the court in last Saturday's win over Florida. South Carolina and Vanderbilt were fined last season.
Stallings recalled an incident when fans stormed the court following a Vandy win and a student pointed pretty close to the face of an opposing player as he walked off the court.
"Something could have happened," said Stallings, who refused to disclose the names of the player and the school. "I thought the player in question showed incredible restraint. I don't know how I would have reacted under the same circumstances."
With an impending $25,000 fine for a second offense, South Carolina increased security measures this season. Steps taken Wednesday night included several warnings over the public address system in the minutes winding down toward the end of the game. A rope was lined around the perimeter court by event staffers when the game ended.
"Billy and I were able to shake hands after the game and he had some nice complements about how our administration made efforts to protect the court," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.
Donovan somewhat revisited his theory on fans storming the court. "If they can do it after the opposing team leaves the court, great, let them storm the court, celebrate all they want," he said. "Just make sure the players and the staff are able to get off the court safely."
Small to big screen Larry Conley usually gets plenty of air time during college basketball season, but the ex-Kentucky guard has recently found time on the big screen as well.
Conley was one of the five Kentucky starters that faced Texas Western for the 1966 NCAA Championship, a matchup revisited in the recent box-office release Glory Road.
Conley said he enjoyed the movie, which told the historic story of Texas Western starting five black players for the first time in a national championship game. Former teammate and current Miami Heat coach Pat Riley was used as a consultant when the movie was being filmed.
"What was interesting was there were a lot of things that I learned about the players that you didn't know when you faced them," Conley said before calling Wednesday night's Florida-South Carolina game for JP Sports. "That's one of the things I enjoyed the most about the film."
Texas Western beat all-white Kentucky for the NCAA title, ushing in the age of integration in college basketball.
"To us, it was just a game," Conley said. "You don't think of the social implications that went into it. It wasn't really prevalent at the time and it didn't become prevalant until a couple of years down the road."
Conley, who called Florida's game at Georgia earlier this season, came away impressed with the play of the Gators.
"I told Billy after the (Georgia) game that in 10 years, this is probably the best chemistry he's had," Conley said. "The way they pass and move the ball, they're very unselfish and they have a good level of maturity on the court.
"At some point, they are going to run into some hurdles here and there. All teams do. But he's got a nice group."
Conley will call Saturday's Florida-Vanderilt matchup for JP Sports.

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