College Basketball Nation: Kevin Bright

1. St. John's coach Steve Lavin is looking forward to the instructive piece of the Red Storm trip to Italy (Aug. 19-Sept 1). He is viewing this trip as a summer report card on the Red Storm. Orlando Sanchez, Max Hooper and God'sgift Achiuwa need competitive games in Europe, according to Lavin, to shake off some of the "rust as a result of sitting out this past season.'' Lavin said highly-touted freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan will get his "baptism as a college athlete in Europe while playing in competitive games and gaining a better sense for his new teammates." Lavin added this trip comes at the ideal time to get new assistant Jimmy Whitesell acclimated with the St. John's team. The Red Storm are in that middle group in the new Big East with Xavier, Butler, Villanova and Providence, with any one of them capable of jumping up and challenging frontrunners Marquette, Creighton and Georgetown.

2. Vanderbilt is practicing in advance of the Commodores foreign trip to Greece and Italy Aug. 10-20 and with a number of defections (Sheldon Jeter, A.J. Astroth, Kevin Bright) and a year-long suspension (Kedren Johnson), this trip is critical for Vandy to find out who it will be this season. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said the trip will be beneficial to Tulsa transfer guard Eric McClellan and forwards Damian Jones and Josh Henderson probably the most. The reason is the responsibilities have shifted. All three will be counted on heavily. But Stallings may be most anticipating to see what Jones, an incoming freshman, can do, adding he "is going to be very good.'' This is a rebuilding season for the Commodores and any added advantage helps.

3. Illinois is still waiting to find out if Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks can get an immediate waiver to play immediately this season rather than sitting out. Starks returned home with the intent on being closer to an ill relative in Chicago. But the University of Illinois is 135 miles from Chicago (depending on what part of Chicago). The waiver is meant to be granted to a within 100 miles of his home. Illinois coach John Groce took Starks knowing he may have to sit to play one. Illinois has Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice and recruited Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill and Jaylon Tate. So, it's not like the Illini don't have anyone to play the position. But Starks would bring immediate experience and depth. It could also mean someone redshirts. Having Starks to balance out classes wouldn't be the worst thing, either.
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.

Old Spice Classic primer

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
9:45
AM ET
Gonzaga and Davidson are the most experienced teams in this field. Might we see a mid-major finale? Stay tuned....

The basics: Nov. 22-23, 25 at HP Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla.

The set matchups: Thursday – West Virginia vs. Marist, Noon ET; Vanderbilt vs. Davidson, 2 p.m.; UTEP vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m.; Clemson vs. Gonzaga, 9 p.m. Friday – semifinals and consolation games. Sunday – consolation games and championship game.

The favorite: Gonzaga, ranked 17th in the AP poll this week, is clearly the team to beat. The Zags feature a versatile roster that lost only one key contributor from last season, and coach Mark Few will be looking to hone his team early in hopes of a 14th straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Jake Cohen, Davidson – The Wildcats return all five starters from the squad that won the Southern Conference championship, including Cohen, the league's reigning player of the year. He is averaging 10 points and 6.3 rebounds but is shooting only 32.3 percent. Davidson has a surprising 1-2 record.

[+] EnlargeKevin Pangos
James Snook/US PresswireKevin Pangos and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are one of the favorites entering the Old Spice Classic.
Milton Jennings, Clemson – As one of only two scholarship seniors on this year’s team (along with forward Devin Booker), the former McDonald’s All-American has a chance to live up to his billing this season. He is averaging 10.5 points (second behind Booker) and 6.5 rebounds, and he needs to continue to be a major player for the Tigers to be a factor in this tournament.

Adam Kemp, Marist – The 6-foot-10 junior has averaged a double-double over his first three games (11 ppg, 10 rpg) and has developed as a reliable inside weapon. But he’ll have his hands full with some big foes during this tournament.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga – The guard led his team in scoring (13.6 ppg) as a freshman and is averaging 11 points and five assists thus far. He’s also made 6 of 13 3-point attempts, picking up where he left off last season, when he converted 40.1 percent from long distance.

Steven Pledger, Oklahoma – The senior has said that three straight losing seasons has fueled his fire. As a result, he is averaging 12 points and 42.1 percent shooting in the Sooners’ first two games. Those are stats he’ll want to keep building upon to keep his team winning.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS:

How big of a difference will Kelly Olynyk make? After being suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the school’s code of conduct, the 7-foot Zags forward should make his season debut against Clemson on Thursday. He redshirted last year but averaged 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore in 2010-11. He should add even more depth to an already deep squad.

Will the Mountaineers bounce back? After getting blown out 84-50 at Gonzaga on Nov. 12, West Virginia would probably love a rematch in the championship game, but the Mountaineers have to get there first. That means improving from the outside (they missed their first 10 3-pointers), taking better care of the ball (they turned it over 18 times) and, according to coach Bob Huggins, competing harder.

Who are these Vanderbilt guys? You might recognize sophomore guard Kedren Johnson, who converted the three-point play that gave the Commodores the lead for good when they upset Kentucky in the SEC tournament. But otherwise, it’s not a very familiar group. All five starters from last season are gone, and Johnson (who averaged only 3.1 ppg last season) is the leading returning scorer. He is averaging 19.5 points so far this season, followed by junior Kyle Fuller (16.0) and freshman Kevin Bright (10.0).

Will the brothers keep leading? It’s always fun to watch brothers who are teammates, especially when those brother-teammates are leading their team in scoring. UTEP’s Chris Washburn, a 6-foot-8 freshman, is averaging 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds off the bench, while 6-7 sophomore Julian Washburn is a starter averaging 11 points and 2.5 rebounds.

THE PICKS

Opening games: West Virginia over Marist; Davidson over Vanderbilt; Oklahoma over UTEP; Gonzaga over Clemson

Semifinals: Davidson over West Virginia; Gonzaga over Oklahoma

Championship: Gonzaga over Davidson

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