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Monday, July 29, 2013
Vanderbilt losing key pieces at worst time

By Eamonn Brennan

Kevin Stallings' tenure at Vanderbilt has been characterized by stability.

In 14 seasons at Vanderbilt, Stallings hasn't reinvented the wheel. Then again, he hasn't really tried. Staillings' program has been a model of the age-old build-win-rebuild cycle. In 2011-12, the most recent of these cycles ended. Stars John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor, and Festus Ezeli finished their careers after three straight tournament appearances, none of them seeded lower than No. 5; Vandy also lost seniors Brad Tinsley and Lance Goulbourne to graduation. The latest rebuilding valley arrived, but it was hardly a new sensation. Stallings had been there before. In a year or two, the Commodores would be back. They always are.

On Monday, that timeline officially went out the window. That's when, in a school release titled simply "Two matters pertaining to Vanderbilt basketball," the Commodores announced ... two matters pertaining to Vanderbilt basketball. The headline belies their importance. They are:

1. Rising junior guard Kedren Johnson announced -- via an open letter to the public -- that "I have been suspended as a student from Vanderbilt University for one year for a mistake I made, the result of using some very poor judgement. That also means I will not be on the basketball team this upcoming season."

2. The school announced that would-be sophomore guard Kevin Bright, a native of Manheim, Germany, is leaving the school, forgoing the final three years of his collegiate eligibility, and signing a professional contract with the Fraport Skyliners in Fraport, Germany. Stallings explained the move in a statement:
"About a week ago, Kevin went home to attend to his mother, who was ill. Subsequently, he decided that the best thing for he and his family was to sign a professional contract so he could be near her. While the timing of this is very unfortunate, we understand Kevin's desire to be present for his family in this time of need. I do, however, look forward to working with this year's team and overcoming these recent setbacks."

And what setbacks they are. Johnson was without question Vanderbilt's most important player in 2012-13. Not only did he lead the Commodores in scoring, but he consumed a sizable chunk (28 percent) of Vandy's available offensive possessions, posting a tidy 30.4 assist rate in the process. Vanderbilt's offense was ugly last season, but Johnson was never super-efficient. But he was a bright spot, with a big pair of seasons ahead of him.

Bright, though just a freshman last season, was already figuring heavily into the Commdores' long-term plans. He started in his first season on campus, shot 40.6 percent on his 133 3-pointers, and rebounded the ball well on the defensive end. There was a lot to improve, sure, but with another season on his belt, Bright could have morphed into the quintessential Stallings piece. Now he's going to play in Germany instead.

In all, this leaves a young and already regrouping bunch with major roster holes coming into 2013-14. All hope is not lost -- Stallings does have an ESPN 100 player, 21st-ranked power forward Damion Jones, en route. But, well, if you're asking whether losing your best player and your most promising freshman in July of a ladder offseason is bad, I'm here to confirm your suspicions as correct. It's bad. At best, it sets Vanderbilt back one season. At worst, it's far longer.