Joe Toye: A leader, a contributor, and a Commodore for life


Blake Dover

January 10, 2017 – Joe Toye (2) helps Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) up during the Commodores’ 87-81 loss to Kentucky in Memorial Gym.

Simon Gibbs and Jaime Perez

On Wednesday night, the Vanderbilt Commodores faced off against the Arkansas Razorbacks in their last home game of the season. While the game had little effect on Vanderbilt’s disappointing season, it may have been the most meaningful contest of the year for one player in particular.

Wednesday night marked the last time senior Joe Toye suited up in black and gold at Memorial.

“He’s had a lot of great moments,” said Head Coach Bryce Drew, who continued to point out one memory in particular in which Toye, in a time of desperate need, recorded a highlight for the ages.

On February 14th, 2018, the Commodores were in the middle of a rough patch and facing Mississippi State. The team, its coaches, and of course, the fans, desperately needed something to cheer for. Their struggles came just a year removed from an NCAA Tournament bid, and Toye answered their calls.

Toye drove hard from the wing to the basket, sweeping past one Mississippi State defender with just one more to beat. The remaining defender was the only thing separating Toye from the basket, but it wasn’t just any defender: it was the 6’ 10”, 225 pound Aric Holman.

Just as he’s done in four years at Vanderbilt, Toye stepped up to the challenge.

Still a few feet from the basket, he went airborne. Toye cocked back his arm in a Lebron-esque, tomahawk fashion, before his body met Holman’s.

The result?

Toye slammed home the biggest dunk of the year, while Holman ended up on the floor.

“I think it was ESPN number two of the night, and it really brought the house down. That’s probably the play that stands out the most to me because we really needed it,” said Drew.

Vanderbilt, currently standing at an unprecedented 0-18 in the SEC, will face off against the Texas A&M Aggies in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. The Commodores may have lost on Toye’s senior night, but Commodore faithful won’t be surprised if he has a night to remember in Bridgestone Arena. Drew’s most fond memory revealed Toye’s knack of providing a spark when the team needs it most.

Before he suits up for what could be his last game as a Commodore, Toye took some time to reminisce on his four years at Vanderbilt University.

A leader On and Off the Court

Toye’s final season has not gone the way he expected. As a matter of fact, his final season, once ridden with hopes of a tournament bid, has not gone the way anyone could have expected.

Fans, players, and coaches alike entered the season with high hopes. The freshmen class, led by the likes of Darius Garland, Simisola Shittu, and Aaron Nesmith, had the talent necessary to compete not just in the SEC, but potentially in March. While ultimately the team was held back by injuries and inconsistencies, some of the early skeptics had just one word to characterize this team: inexperienced.

They weren’t wrong. The team was one of the youngest in the nation, with just one one senior on the roster: Joe Toye, a versatile guard/forward out of Whitney Young High in Chicago. Through thick and thin, Toye has been a consistent contributor, both on and off the court.

On the court, he knows what this team needs to do to succeed. After all, he has been a part of a NCAA tournament team–as a sophomore, he showcased his versatility on the biggest stage. In the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, as Vanderbilt faced off against Northwestern, Toye did it all: he tallied six points, two steals, one assist, and three rebounds in 26 minutes played.

Toye has improved most of his averages from last season, but his contributions go above and beyond the stat sheet. He brings stellar defense, hustle, and a solid basketball IQ to the court every night. His biggest contribution, however, is how he’s tried to prove those early-season skeptics wrong. Sure, the Commodores may be inexperienced, but with a proper leader in place, this team can begin to mature in the long-term.

Luckily, Toye has been a sublime leader this season. Even though the Commodores are struggling, he’s doing his part to make sure the young players can grow and eventually, lead the team just as he has.

Joe Toye as Vanderbilt was stunned 71-70 against Arkansas at Memorial Gym January 24,

“Couldn’t be more proud of Joe,” said Drew. “Obviously, this year hasn’t gone how we all wanted to from a record standpoint, but from a character building, from a leadership, and from a maturity level, Joe has been off the charts.”

Toye understands what he needs to do to ensure that this program, led by such a young core, can be successful in the future. Time and time again he’s made it clear that the losing streak may be frustrating, but it has not, and should not, alter his responsibilities as a leader.

“We’re still striving to just get better every day, and that’s our focus as a team,” said Toye, who expressed a similar mindset as Coach Drew.

When Toye reminisces on his four years, he sees all Vanderbilt had to offer–he may not focus on this disappointing senior season, but instead, he recognizes how he’s grown as a player, a leader, and a student. Vanderbilt will always be special to Joe. After all, it did provide him the opportunity to play SEC basketball, study at one of the top academic institutions in the country, and live in the beautiful city of Nashville.

“I’ve had the time of my life here,” said Toye. “I think being at Vanderbilt is an amazing experience because obviously I got to play in the SEC, play against the best competition basketball-wise, but also be around some of the smartest people in the world, just going to class and interacting with them. And then just being in Nashville, it’s a growing city, there’s a million things you can do in the city, and I’ve never been happier than I have in my four years here.”

The Inaugural Perry Wallace Scholar

Toye has plenty of achievements, accolades, and honors to show for his four years at Vanderbilt, but there is one that stands out from the rest. Just last fall, former athletic director David Williams had a decision to make: which Vanderbilt basketball player would receive the high praise of receiving the first scholarship named in honor of Perry Wallace?

Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the SEC, is idolized by countless Commodores. Toye, however, couldn’t even begin explaining how Wallace has impacted him, simply because he believes the impact cannot be narrowed down to one person.

“I couldn’t even tell you how Perry impacted me specifically, only because he’s impacted athletes all over as the first African-American basketball player in the SEC,” Toye said. “He had to go through so much while he was here that people didn’t really understand until later after he had left and wrote an article to let everyone know what he’s been going through. I think his impact is bigger than just basketball here at Vanderbilt, it’s all around the SEC, but it means the world to me that I was able to get that scholarship.”

There is no doubt that Joe earned the award, and, despite the lackluster season, he has done his best to honor it. He has been the team’s leader on and off the court. He has guided the younger players and been someone all the coaches can rely on, whether it’s in practice or in games. Throughout his final year, he has continually tried to prove he was the right choice to represent Wallace’s legacy.

Wallace is not just a Vanderbilt legend, but also also an iconic figure in college basketball. Williams, who helped to mend the fractured relationship between Wallace and the university, knew this better than anybody. By choosing Joe for the scholarship, Williams showed just how highly people think of the team’s lone senior.

Williams served as both a mentor and a role model to Toye throughout his tenure as athletic director. His impact on Toye personally before his tragic passing, and on Vanderbilt as a whole, will never be overlooked; by giving Toye an honor like the Wallace Scholarship, it meant even more.

“David Williams is always a huge role model for me,” Toye said emotionally. “From day one, when I came here on my official visit. I visited him in his office with my parents for like 30 minutes and just talked to him. He created a family environment here, but he was just always somebody I could talk to. Overall, a great man. He made so many changes here at Vanderbilt, and not just in athletics programs, just the school in general. Having him as my mentor was a huge plus for me in my four years here.”

Toye has honored the late Williams by writing “RIP DW” on his shoes following Williams’ death in February.

It has been a discouraging season for the Commodores, and surely Toye would have wanted a better finale. Despite the scoreboard, nothing has stopped Toye from giving his all. Whether you ask the players, the coaches, or the fans, they all recognize Joe has been great role model, leading with both his actions and words. For that very reason, Drew knows he will find success in whatever his future endeavors my present.

“He’s gonna be extremely successful wherever he goes, in whatever he does after this,” said Drew.

Those who have followed Toye’s career at Vanderbilt, as both a student and as an athlete, will certainly expect nothing less.