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.

‘Dores in the Pros: NBA tip-off edition

With the NBA officially underway, The Hustler takes a look at how Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball alumni have fared through the first week.
Shun Ahmed
Darius Garland plays in a game during his freshman season in 2018. (Hustler Multimedia/Shun Ahmed)

The air is getting colder. The leaves are changing colors. The 78th NBA regular season is officially upon us. With the season opener just last week, where the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Denver Nuggets, let’s take a look around the league to see former Commodores take the court and work tirelessly to make names for themselves. 

Darius Garland, Point Guard (2018-19): Cleveland Cavaliers 

Garland is widely considered the best athlete to come out of Vanderbilt University. The Nashville, TN. native was one of the leading members of the Commodores’ 2018 recruiting class that featured Aaron Nesmith and Simisola Shittu, among others. Garland was the No. 11 overall player and No. 1 point guard in the nation. Garland’s career on West End was cut relatively short after a meniscus injury in his left knee forced him to get season-ending surgery just five games into his freshman season. He was stellar in his first four games for the Commodores, averaging 19.8 points per game. Less than a year later, Garland entered the 2019 NBA Draft and was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the fifth overall pick. Garland’s breakout came during his third season, when he averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists, both career-highs, after which he earned a five year, $193 million maximum extension to become the highest-paid Vanderbilt basketball player of all time. This season, Garland has gotten off to a less-than-ideal start. He suffered a hamstring injury during the Cavs opening night win over the Brooklyn Nets and has since missed three straight games. Garland should return to the court soon, and fans can expect him to remain an integral part of the Cleveland offense, both as a scorer and a passer. 

Damian Jones, Center (2013-2016): Cleveland Cavaliers

Jones, unlike his Cleveland counterpart Garland, enjoyed a rather long and fruitful career while at Vanderbilt. Across three seasons and 99 games played (95 of which he started), the 6’10” center averaged 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Coming out of Scotlandville Magnet HS in Baton Rouge, LA., Jones was the No. 61 recruit in the country, per 247 Sports. He was a defensive stalwart for the Commodores, as he was selected to the All-SEC Defensive team during the 2014-2015 season. He was also honored as a member of the All-SEC first team in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. Jones’ ability to protect the paint was enough to get him drafted with the 30th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He won two NBA Championships with the Warriors through his first two years before getting traded to the Atlanta Hawks. He has since played for the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jones is averaging just 9.0 minutes per game with the Cavaliers, averaging 1.7 points and 2.0 rebounds through three games this season. Starting center Jarrett Allen is considered one of the premier rim protectors in the NBA, so Jones doesn’t figure into the lineup as much as he has in past seasons, but his veteran presence is certainly valued on the Cavaliers, a relatively young team. 

Luke Kornet, Center (2013-2017): Boston Celtics

Kornet has long been considered a staple of the Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball program, as he spent all four years of his undergraduate career at Vanderbilt, appearing in 128 games. Across all four seasons, Kornet averaged 8.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, but it wasn’t until his senior season that he really came on, averaging 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds (both career-highs) and 2.0 blocks per game. He was selected to the All-SEC Defensive team during his junior season (2015-16), and earned that honor again his senior season (2016-2017), also being named to the 2016-17 All-SEC First team during his final  season. Kornet led Vanderbilt to the semifinals of the 2017 SEC tournament, which was good enough to earn them a bid into the NCAA tournament. Kornet was not selected in the 2017 NBA Draft, but was signed to a free agent deal by the New York Knicks. He’s since bounced around the league, going from the Knicks to the Chicago Bulls, to the Boston Celtics, to the Cleveland Cavaliers, to the Milwaulkee Bucks, back to the Celtics, where he now plays. Kornet has struggled to find playing time early in the 2023 season, as he’s played just 19 total minutes across two games, averaging 0.0 points, 1.5 assists and 1.0 rebounds per game. 

Saben Lee, Point Guard (2017-2020): Phoenix Suns

During his three seasons with the Commodores, Lee started in 78 of 96 total games played and averaged 13.9 points per game. Notably, Lee’s final season with Vanderbilt was by far his best. Lee scored 594 points and 134 assists in 1,052 minutes during the 2019-20 season. Lee ranked fourth in points per game and was selected for the All-SEC Second team after the 2019-20 season. In all three seasons with the Commodores, Lee also held a place in several Top 20 categories, all of which ranged from assists, free throw percentage and turnovers. Drafted in the second round as the 8th pick (38th overall), Lee momentarily found himself on the Utah Jazz prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, but was traded to the Detroit Pistons in mid-November of 2020. After signing a multi-year contract with the Pistons, Lee found himself back in Utah (very briefly), before paying a visit to the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. After moving throughout the league, Lee returned to the Suns as of early this year on a first preliminary basis, as he was offered two 10-day contracts – one after the other – and now currently plays alongside  Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns. Lee averaged 2.0 points and 2.0 assists per game in 2023-24 playing only one game thus far.

Aaron Nesmith, Forward (2018-2020): Indiana Pacers

Nesmithe averaged 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game during his two seasons at Vanderbilt. Playing just under 1,500 minutes with the Commodores, as his 2019-2020 season was cut short, the 6 ’6” forward  broke out the first half of his sophomore season with a flat .500 field goal percentage, and a slightly higher 3-point percentage of .522. In the 2018-19 season, Nesmith was ranked in the top 20 for defensive rebounds, and in the top 15 for 3-point field goal attempts. Following his time in Nashville, in late 2020, Nesmith was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the first round (14th pick) of the 2020 NBA Draft. With signing the two-way contract with both the Boston and Maine Celtics, Nesmith was then traded to the Indiana Pacers in mid-2022, and has extended his contract since. In the 2023-24 season, in just three games, Nesmith had 26.7 minutes of play time averaging 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. 

Matt Ryan, Forward (2018-19): New Orlean Pelicans

Unlike most of the players on this list, Ryan spent only one year with the Vanderbilt Commodores. Ryan was a transfer who made stints at Notre Dame and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Nonetheless, during his junior year, the 6’7” forward played a total of 29 games, starting 25. Ryan was awarded a spot on the All-SEC Second Team list after having  235 points, 78 rebounds and 27 assists in the 2018-19 season.  In September 2021, Ryan signed with the Denver Nuggets, and a few months later, signed a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics. Ryan also made stops with the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and then finally, the New Orleans Pelicans, where he averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game with 27:10 played across the first four games of the season. Ryan hopes to repeat and exceed his 2022-23 stats where he held a .424 field goal percentage with a total of 181 minutes played throughout the season.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Megan Curtis
Megan Curtis, Staff Writer
Megan Curtis (‘27) is from Queens, N.Y., and is majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in digital fabrication in the School of Engineering. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her watching the New York Yankees and training at the gym. You can reach her at [email protected].
Shun Ahmed
Shun Ahmed, Former Staff Writer
Shun Ahmed ('22) was a Life staff writer and Multimedia photographer/videographer. If you don't see Shun producing anything, you can see her either performing spoken word pieces, actively organizing political events in Nashville or even just enjoying a good book. You can reach her at [email protected].
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