‘Dores in the Pros: Fall Edition

With the NBA season underway and the NFL soon to reach the midseason mark, it’s time we check in on the Commodore alumni competing at the next level.

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Hunter Long

Dayo Odeyingbo (#10) played four years for the Commodores and totaled 8 career sacks. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long).

Noah Roslin, Staff Writer

A number of former Commodores have found success on both the gridiron and hardwood early in their respective professional seasons. Vanderbilt has seven active alumni in the NFL and seven in the NBA, both of which we’ll touch on.

‘Dores in the NBA

Garland suffered an undisclosed eye injury in the Cavaliers’ opening night loss to the Toronto Raptors when Gary Trent Jr. inadvertently poked Garland in the eye. Although he has not seen the court since, Cavs’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff said that Garland is eyeing (no pun intended) a possible return to action on Friday, Oct. 28, against the Celtics. 

With the off-season addition of All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz, Garland and the Cavs have major expectations for the upcoming year. The 22-year-old point guard enjoyed a breakout season last year, averaging 21.7 points, 8.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. In the 2021-22 season, Garland got his first All-Star nod and led the Cavaliers to an  Eastern Conference Play-in game.

Among NBA teams, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to be more or less hoarding former Commodores. Most notably, center Damian Jones inked a 2 year, $5 million dollar deal with the team and has seen a minutes uptick in his last two games. 

The fan favorite from last year’s NIT run, rookie Scotty Pippen Jr, saw legitimate playing time during the preseason and scored his first NBA basket in the season opener against the Golden State Warriors. Pippen is currently on a two-way contract with the Lakers’ G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers. The shifty guard has a real shot at getting significant minutes, since the Lakers’ backcourt currently looks like a dumpster fire.  

Former Commodore, forward Matt Ryan, is also rostered on the Lakers. The 6’7” sharpshooter played a year in Nashville in between stints on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Chattanooga Mocs, and is getting his shot in the NBA after a scorching hot preseason where he shot 52.6% from beyond the arc.

One of the other players experiencing a change of scenery is forward Aaron Nesmith. The 2020 lottery pick played well in flashes for the Celtics but had trouble working his way into their stacked wing rotation behind Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Grant Williams. After being part of a trade package to bring All-Star guard Malcolm Brogdon to Boston, Nesmith has been playing double the minutes as last year on a rebuilding Indiana Pacers team. His athleticism and touch from outside the arc should pair well with the playmaking of young point guard Tyrese Haliburton and the explosive rookie Benedict Mathurin. 

Lastly, defensive pest Saben Lee experienced a turbulent offseason. Lee was traded from the Detroit Pistons back to the Utah Jazz, the team that drafted him 38th overall in 2020. The Jazz subsequently dropped Lee, who got picked up and dropped by the Suns before getting picked up and waived again by the Toronto Raptors. The 6’2” guard has quick hands and does a nice job of staying in front of his man—he should get another shot in the league very soon.

‘Dores in the NFL

Cornerback Casey Hayward, 33, suffered a shoulder injury in a win over the San Francisco 49ers and was subsequently placed on the injured reserve. He will now need surgery to repair the damage. In his first year with his hometown Falcons, the two-time Pro Bowler had 15 tackles and 1 interception in 6 games and was ranked 50th in Pro Football Focus’s cornerback rankings before the injury.

Second-year defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo has 1.5 sacks through 7 games for the Indianapolis Colts. He notably had 4 tackles and a crucial sack in the Colts’ 12-9 overtime win over the Denver Broncos. With a serious ankle injury to starting DE Kwity Paye, Odeyingbo is slated to get a bigger opportunity to shine this season and get to the quarterback for a team who is relying heavily on their defense to rise to the top of a weak AFC South division. 

The Dolphins’ speedy wideout Trent Sherfield has had an integral role not only in Miami’s electric offense, but in the NFL headlines as well, drawing comparisons to former New York Jet Mark Sanchez… for all the wrong reasons. In a crucial win against the division-leading Bills, Fins’ punter Thomas Morstead inadvertently sent a punt off of one of his blockers’ backsides. The play resulted in a safety, and the internet exploded. Aside from the obvious hilarity of the aptly named “Butt Punt,” it is a testament to Sherfield’s importance to this special teams unit that he was even in position to get a football to the butt. 

Sherfield has also seen an increased role on offense as a part of Tua Tagoviloa’s cast of weapons. Though behind the gamebreaking tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the depth chart, Sherfield has still managed to put up 13 receptions for 132 yards through 7 weeks. He may have trouble seeing many snaps but is a cog in this juggernaut offense. If either Hill or Waddle goes down with an injury, Sherfield is set to be the next man up. 

Finally, ILB Zach Cunningham has been battling injuries but has played real minutes for the AFC South-leading Titans. He had 16 total tackles through 3 games this year before suffering an elbow injury against the Raiders. His return will be vital for the hometown Titans to strengthen their inside defense.

Overall, the ‘Dores are performing well in the pros right now. Although Coach Lea does not have any NFL players under his tutelage yet, with the way linebacker Anfernee Orji has been playing, that should change come spring. Orji’s toughness is a representation of the culture Lea is instilling, which speaks well for the future of the program. There are also many players on the big league hardwood that started at Memorial Gymnasium—a testament to the growth of the basketball program. With the news of Jerry Stackhouse’s new contract extension, that momentum should only accelerate, and you can expect more Vandy alumni in the league in no time.