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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.

Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball Offseason Notebook: Life after Lawrence

Vanderbilt has much to sort out after losing Tyrin Lawrence, but the transfer portal is always a fountain of hope.
Tyrin+Lawrence+goes+for+a+dunk%2C+as+captured+on+Nov.+7%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FJosh+Rehders%29
Josh Rehders
Tyrin Lawrence goes for a dunk, as captured on Nov. 7, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

National college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein’s “We Sleep in May” mantra might be better suited as “We Sleep in June,” at least as far as Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball is concerned. 

An infamously eventful season that (for brevity purposes) included both a 57-point loss at the hands of Alabama and a run to the precipice of the NCAA Tournament has given way to a similarly active offseason. In total, Vanderbilt has lost nine players from its 2022-23 roster and added three to its 2023-24 roster. Assistant coach Adam Mazarei left for Cal and Anthony Wilkins joined the staff from Georgia Tech. 

No move was greater in the grand scheme of Vanderbilt’s offseason chess board than Tyrin Lawrence’s entry into the transfer portal last Monday. Long seen as the king piece in the Commodores’ potential NCAA Tournament hopes next season, Lawrence’s defection was a massive one for Jerry Stackhouse’s program. 

Vanderbilt Men's Basketball Scholarship Chart (Bryce Smith)
Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball Scholarship Chart (Hustler Staff/Bryce Smith) 

With Lawrence out the door, Vanderbilt has three remaining scholarships to use in 2023-24 after adding Lehigh transfer Evan Taylor and three-star freshman wing Malik Presley. Ezra Manjon, Colin Smith, Lee Dort and Paul Lewis endure as the only four returnees from the 2022-23 squad. Dort became the last of the quadrant to sign with the Anchor Impact Fund last week, fortifying a likely return for the talented big man. However, sources told The Hustler that there’s a possibility that fifth-year senior Quentin Millora-Brown returns to West End as well after his surprising portal entry.  

With still much left to sort out, let’s dive into the Lawrence saga, where Vanderbilt goes from here and what to lookout for over the coming months. 

Losing Lawrence 

In my final in-season column in March, I noted how much of Vanderbilt’s 2023-24 fate hinged on the shoulders of Tyrin Lawrence’s potential return. The two-way wing blossomed as a junior, jumping from 3.8 to 13.1 points per game in one season and serving as the quintessential example of linear development within Stackhouse’s program along the way. A return to West End, alongside Ezra Manjon, would have given Vanderbilt one of the very best backcourts in the conference. 

All of which made his entry into the transfer portal so devastating for the Commodore program. 

In a time when player freedom, empowerment and movement has never been greater, it’s hard to blame Lawrence for exploring his options. If Vanderbilt’s staff and athletic administration was dismissive of a player of Lawrence’s caliber potentially doing so, it would have been extremely naive. As it is, losing a homegrown star like Lawrence is already a blemish on the Athletics Department as a whole. 

Vanderbilt against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)
Vanderbilt against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

We will never know the exact calculus of factors that went into Lawrence’s decision to jump ship, but there was most definitely more reason than one. 

In March I posited that “Lawrence’s junior leap certainly garnered the attention of those outside of Vanderbilt and in the NIL era, he will be poised to cash in off his performance this year,” and asked aloud whether those funds would come via Vanderbilt’s now-singular NIL collective. Evidently, they will not, and that payout was surely an enticing positive of entering the portal. 

While Vanderbilt’s NIL collective efforts get off the ground, other SEC programs like Arkansas and Auburn are running full-fledged NIL operations that give their coaches a professional-like salary pool with which to play. A school like Vanderbilt will likely never operate or compete with the big boys in that way, but perhaps strategically rerouting Vandy United donors to the NIL space could be of immediate benefit. 

But it’s highly unlikely that Lawrence’s decision was based purely on NIL dollars. While some fans worry about the diminishing value of player and program loyalty in college athletics (and rightfully so, in some instances), consider the inverse for a second. 

Lawrence stuck with Vanderbilt for three seasons, becoming the longest-standing member of his high school recruiting class to wear the Black and Gold. He embraced various roles whether it be hot-shot freshman, bench option or breakout star across 77 games as a Commodore. He was named to the 2020-21 First-Year SEC Academic Honor Roll and was a double major on campus. 

Yet, Lawrence became the ninth recruit (of 10) in Stackhouse’s first three high-school recruiting classes to leave for the portal. Might there be a common denominator there unrelated to loyalty to the university and basketball team? 

In any case, losing Lawrence is a painful and sobering moment for Stackhouse and a Vanderbilt program coming off its best season in years. Working to find his replacement, or more likely replacements, will be difficult but crucial. 

Fresh faces

Vanderbilt’s first portal entry seemed to fit nicely alongside Lawrence, but now Lehigh transfer Evan Taylor’s role is to replace him. That’s probably an impossibly uphill task for the fifth-year senior, but I really like what he will bring to the table for the Commodores. 

Taylor ranked in the 72nd percentile of spot-up shooters across Division I last season and projects as an absolute weapon in Stackhouse’s scheme in that sense. The lefty sniper pairs well with the slashing abilities of Manjon as well, and though his commitment last week will be overshadowed by the Lawrence news, I am a big fan of the pickup.

Vanderbilt against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)
Vanderbilt against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

Then there’s prepster Malik Presley, another 6’6 wing. The San Marcos, Texas, product is in a completely different mold than the sharpshooting Taylor: Presley’s Hudl highlights are filled with high-flying dunks rather than wing jumpers. Part of that style is due to the difference in the competition that Taylor and Presley were facing in college and high school, but the two seem poised to complement each other well on the wing. While Presley is a bit rawer in other facets of his game, adding a versatile and athletic forward this late in the recruiting cycle is a positive. 

Vanderbilt will likely do most of the remaining work of filling its final three roster spots in the transfer portal.

If you’re unaware by now, the transfer portal is still a mess, and sorting through Vanderbilt’s potential options is an even trickier exercise. Thankfully, I have one more column to explain the situation before the head editors kick me off the staff due to age-related concerns. 

Perhaps the most prominent of the Commodores’ portal options is UTEP forward Ze’Rik Onyema. Onyema recently completed a visit to West End this past weekend and will visit Texas on Monday, according to the Portal Report. Onyema has an impressive group lined up including Texas Tech and Ole Miss in addition to his first two visits. 

Landing the 6’8 forward would be a coup for Vanderbilt and a big start in filling the void left by Lawrence. After landing in-home visits, but eventually losing out on BJ Mack (South Carolina) and Ka’Mari Lands (Arizona State), it’s clear that the Commodores are in the market for a long, rangy forward and Onyema would fit that mold perfectly. 

Elsewhere, the Commodores seem to be in the thick of things for Campbell transfer Anthony Dell’Orso, who named Vanderbilt, Xavier and Wake Forest as the three schools he’s hearing from the most. Dell’Orso is a 6’6 guard who averaged 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game during his freshman season at Campbell. 

On the topic of guards, Vanderbilt will surely take a look at Penn transfer Jordan Dingle, who entered the portal on Friday. Dingle averaged 23.4 points per game for Penn last season and Vanderbilt may have an academic appeal for the Ivy League grad transfer. If there were an ideal candidate to replace Lawrence and step in next to Manjon, Dingle would be it, but he’s likely to have big suitors as well. 

With hundreds of players still in the portal and 12 more days for more to enter, Vanderbilt will hope to make a splash with its final few roster spots. As April turns to May and May to June, let’s hope Jon Rothstein and Commodore fans alike can get some rest sooner than later. 

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About the Contributors
Bryce Smith
Bryce Smith, Former Sports Editor
Bryce Smith ('23) is majoring in human and organizational development in Peabody College with a minor in business. Bryce previously wrote for SBNation before joining The Hustler. Hailing from Chicago, Bryce is a die-hard Bears and Cubs fan who is also hoping that the Bulls and Blackhawks may one day rekindle their dominance. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Former Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
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. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. 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].
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