The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

BARBIN: Win or lose, Stackhouse is building a champion on West End

No matter the result of tonight’s game, Jerry Stackhouse has exemplified his illustrious acumen at Vanderbilt, leading to one conclusion: He’s the right coach to lead this program to the promised land.
Jerry+Stackhouse+coaches+from+the+sidelines+against+LSU+at+the+SEC+Tournament%2C+as+photographed+on+Mar.+9%2C+2023.
Nikita Rohila
Jerry Stackhouse coaches from the sidelines against LSU at the SEC Tournament, as photographed on Mar. 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

Today, the Vanderbilt Commodores find themselves within striking distance of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2017. The fact that Selection Sunday is a date on the Commodores’ horizon is a massive, unexpected victory in itself.

A mere 38 days ago, Vanderbilt was left for dead following a 101-44 thrashing at the hands of Alabama. Questions circulated about whether fourth-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse could  mold the Commodores into the championship-caliber program that was advertised when his contract was extended in October.

Stackhouse responded by leading his team to a scorching hot run that saw it win eight of its last nine games. The streak, which included four Quadrant 1 wins, catapulted the Commodores back into the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation

Last night, the Commodores took care of LSU in their SEC Tournament debut, setting up a clash with Kentucky tonight, a team that Vanderbilt split series with during the regular season. The excitement is palpable on West End, as Vanderbilt’s push to March continues just down the road at Bridgestone Arena.

No matter the result of tonight’s game, though, Stackhouse has earned his extension with this program. Over the last two months, Stackhouse has had Vanderbilt playing at a championship caliber level and has proved he is the coach capable of taking them to that level. But with all attention (understandably so) on what will happen next for Stackhouse and the Commodores, take a moment to hit the “rewind” button and look back at how we got here.

Recruitment

Venture back to the quaint town of Kinston, North Carolina. The year is 1991, and the best high school player in the Tar Heel state resides here. Not only that, but Stackhouse was the No. 5 recruit in the country. He learned the ins and outs of the recruiting process, from the benefits to the annoyances, first-hand.

“The whole process was getting old,” Stackhouse said to Landmark News Service after finally making his commitment.

His time at Vanderbilt may be his first experience as a college coach but going through the process himself as a top recruit has greatly aided his abilities to cater to players’ needs and help them see where they can fit in his Commodore roster.

In 2019 — the first class Stackhouse ever recruited, he brought in Dylan Disu, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Jordan Wright. This trio would end up making crucial contributions to the growth of a program in its infancy. The class was ranked No. 50 in the nation.

The next season, Stackhouse welcomed Tyrin Lawrence and Myles Stute, both top three players in their respective states. In 2021, Stackhouse reeled in the No. 43 ranked class. He also snagged Liam Robbins from Minnesota and was well on his way to completely overhauling a broken program that had entirely collapsed the year before his arrival.

In 2022, Stackhouse did his best work yet: He secured the No. 28-ranked recruiting class for Vanderbilt. This included four-stars Lee Dort, Colin Smith and Noah Shelby. 

For never recruiting as a coach before, Stackhouse used what he learned from his own experience to pick up the craft quickly.

Mentorship

In 1993, Stackhouse took his talents to UNC, playing under legendary coach Dean Smith. In his time at Chapel Hill, Stackhouse was a pivotal part of a second-round Tournament run in 1994 and a Final Four run in 1995. 

While his time as a Tar Heel was undoubtedly valuable in that he was exposed to a successful college program from the inside, perhaps the most foundational aspect of Stackhouse’s college experience was his relationship with Smith. 

“He was a father figure to me,” Stackhouse said to Yahoo.

In a time when Stackhouse was quickly acquiring money and fame, he had someone to turn to that knew how to look out for his best interests.

“I had to trust someone,” Stackhouse said. “Coach Smith took it upon himself to be that person, to make sure to protect me from myself. I’m so proud he took that initiative.”

On April 9, 2020, Tyrin Lawrence verbally committed to Vanderbilt. Lawrence had tragically lost his father to a car accident in 2018. When Lawrence was considering whether or not to make Memorial Gym his home for the next chapter of his life, Stackhouse knew what was necessary. He was ready — and willing — to assume the role of a father figure to an even higher degree than Smith did for him.

“Tyrin lost his dad, and a lot of the reason that he came to Vanderbilt was because I promised him that I would be a father figure… it’s a lot more than just a damn game,” Stackhouse told The Tennessean.

Tyrin Lawrence eyes the basket at Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila) (Nikita Rohila)

Stackhouse has lived up to his promise to Lawrence and his family. He is admittedly hard on Lawrence — but only because he believes that he can play at the next level. Stackhouse’s tough love on Lawrence was most apparent when Lawrence was benched for the Commodores’ blowout loss at Alabama. Stackhouse said he had been displeased with his demeanor in practice leading up to the game. Since then, the 6’4” junior has become one of the key leaders of the team and is a fundamental reason for the Commodores’ unlikely 8-1 run to close out the season.

Stackhouse is forging a long-term relationship with Lawrence that goes beyond basketball, much like Smith did with him.

“I’m going to be at Tyrin Lawrence’s wedding,” Stackhouse said.

Professional experience

Stackhouse was selected No. 3 overall in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He entered the league facing sky-high expectations, drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan because of their many similarities, including height, college, draft selection position and play style.

Stackhouse would go on to have a long and fruitful NBA career, playing for 18 seasons and scoring over 16,000 points. He led the league in total scoring in 2000-01, recording 2,380 points.

Many players get into coaching after their time on the court but few with the kind of experience that Stackhouse boasts. For college athletes with aspirations of competing at the next level, Stackhouse serves as an endless well of knowledge to draw on about how to make it to — and remain on — the NBA hardwood.

In his short time at the helm of the Commodore program, Stackhouse has sent Saben Lee, Aaron Nesmith and Scotty Pippen Jr. to the league. Lee now plays for the Phoenix Suns (on a two-way contract) and Nesmith for the Indiana Pacers while Pippen Jr. is lighting up the G League.

Under the tutelage of Stackhouse, Lee averaged 18.6 points and scored 30 or more points on four separate occasions. Lee’s 38 point performance against Alabama was the second-most ever by a Vanderbilt player in a road game. Nesmith averaged 23 points per game and was the leading scorer in the SEC before getting injured. Both would leave Vanderbilt for the NBA following Stackhouse’s first season.

Pippen Jr. played his entire career under Stackhouse. The now-Los Angeles Laker steadily improved each season he spent at Vanderbilt, finishing as an All-SEC First-Team player in his sophomore and junior years and leading the Commodores to their first postseason appearance in the Stackhouse era.

Having the advice and guidance of Stackhouse during their time in Nashville helped mold Lee, Nesmith and Pippen Jr. into resilient young players that can brave the valleys and peaks of the life of a professional basketball player.

Coaching

Not only did Stackhouse compile an impressive coaching resume during his brief stint in the NBA, but he learned the impact that the entire coaching staff could have on the success of a team. Stackhouse began his assistant coaching career with the Toronto Raptors in 2015. He was part of a staff that coached the Raptors into finishing second in the Eastern Conference reaching the Eastern Conference Finals that season. 

After a successful year with the Raptors, Stackhouse was named the head coach of Raptors 905, Toronto’s G League team (then called the NBA Development League). He excelled there — leading the team to a championship — and was named NBA D-League Coach of the Year. Specifically, Stackhouse was crucial in the development of NBA star Pascal Siakam, a member of the championship team.

Next, Stackhouse went to Memphis, taking a job as an assistant coach for the Grizzlies in the 2018-19 season. In his time with the Grizzlies, Stackhouse quickly earned the respect of the locker room, serving as a tremendous mentor for a team desperately in need of it. 

When the Vanderbilt job was made available, Stackhouse, who had become a legitimate candidate for NBA head coaching jobs, jumped at the opportunity. He saw the chance to turn around a program in turmoil as one he could not turn down.

After one of Vanderbilt’s biggest wins of the season — a 66-65 thriller over Tennessee — Stackhouse emphasized the importance of trusting his coaching staff. After the victory, he credited his assistants.

“I let Adam [Mazarei] call a lot of the plays tonight,” Stackhouse said. “I’ve been trying to give him more responsibility in play calling so I can focus on the game.”

But, in the most crucial moment of the game, the Commodores trailed by two points with just 4.8 seconds to go, and Stackhouse took play-calling responsibilities back. He drew on the experience he had accumulated in his time as an assistant. 

“None of this stuff is really original — we all steal stuff as coaches,” Stackhouse said. “I got that one from Dwayne Casey when I was in Toronto.”

The play resulted in an iconic Lawrence buzzer-beater.

“It might be my favorite shot in my career — playing and coaching,” Stackhouse added with a smile.

Faith in the team

Four minutes into Vanderbilt’s matchup against Kentucky, Liam Robbins — the centerpiece of the Commodore squad — went down with a lower leg injury. Those four minutes were the last he would play all season.

A lesser coach would have crumbled against such adversity; a poised and seasoned Stackhouse did not. The Commodore coach turned to someone who had been with him since the beginning of his journey in Nashville: Jordan Wright, who answered the call and scored a season-high 23 points to solidify the win against the Wildcats.

With 10.6 seconds left in the game, the teams were all knotted up at 66 apiece. A hesitant Ezra Manjon looked to Stackhouse for guidance, expecting him to call a timeout.

“Play through!” Stackhouse yelled.

Jerry Stackhouse looks on as Vanderbilt plays Pittsburgh on Dec. 7, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain) (Miguel Beristain)

Stackhouse knew exactly where the ball was going. Manjon dished the ball to Wright, who subsequently drove, spun and hit a game-winning fade away jumper.

“We started this thing together,” an emotional Stackhouse said of Wright after the game. “He’s my very first recruit. He’s the first guy that I signed to Vanderbilt.”

Stackhouse has utilized everything on his basketball resume to reshape Vanderbilt basketball into a formidable program. There is no reason to believe that Stackhouse — with his qualifications, passion and vision for this program — cannot lead Vanderbilt to a National Championship in years to come.

Numbers don’t lie

When Stackhouse arrived on West End, Vanderbilt basketball had hit rock bottom. The team had just finished a season in which it went winless in the SEC, the first SEC team to do so since Georgia in 1954.

Stackhouse did not back down from the challenge. He knew the Commodores would not be an overnight fix but had a clear vision of how this program could steadily improve.

Since Stackhouse’s arrival, Vanderbilt has done nothing but trend up.

In 2019-20, the Commodores finished 11-21 and won 3 conference games. They were defeated in the first round of the SEC Tournament by Arkansas

The next year Stackhouse and Co. faced an unprecedented challenge in COVID-19. Despite the adversity, the Commodores finished 9-16 in a shortened season and won an SEC Tournament game against Texas A&M.

Last season, Stackhouse led the team to its first winning record since 2017, finishing 19-17. The team also posted a much-improved 7-11 SEC record. Vanderbilt beat Georgia and Alabama in the SEC Tournament before falling in the quarterfinals to Kentucky. The Commodores received a bid to the National Invitation Tournament NIT, where they bested Belmont and Dayton before being eliminated by Xavier, who went on to win the tournament. 

Last Saturday, Stackhouse concluded his fourth regular season on West End. The team finished 18-13 with an 11-7 mark against the SEC. For the first time in six years, the Commodores enter the SEC Tournament with legitimate hopes of making an appearance in March Madness.

Hours before Vanderbilt’s much anticipated rematch with Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the 2023 SEC Tournament, it’s impossible to say exactly what’s next for this iteration of the Commodores. But, with the way Stackhouse has prepared this squad, they will give any team a run for their money right now.

“You’ve got to have those ebbs and flows,” Stackhouse said on the art of coaching. “We’ve had some ebbs, so now it’s good to flow a little bit.”

Vanderbilt will play Kentucky tonight at 8:30 CST at Bridgestone Arena.

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About the Contributors
Jonah Barbin, Senior Staff Writer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila, Deputy Social Media Director
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
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