Q&A: Jerry Stackhouse talks virtual recruiting, previews personnel for next season

The Hustler caught up with Vanderbilt’s basketball coach over Zoom to wrap up last season and get some insight on his plans for the future.

Jerry+Stackhouse+is+introduced+as+Vanderbilt%27s+head+basketball+coach+on+April+8%2C+2019.+Photo+by+Hunter+Long

Hunter Long

Jerry Stackhouse is introduced as Vanderbilt's head basketball coach on April 8, 2019. Photo by Hunter Long

It’s been just over one month since Jerry Stackhouse and his Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball team concluded their season with a loss to Arkansas in the SEC tournament. Since then, his world, like everyone else’s, has turned upside down. The Hustler sat down with Coach Stackhouse on Tuesday to break down how his team has been affected by COVID-19, his overall takeaways from his first year, some of the new faces the Commodores will bring in next season and his thoughts on Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith declaring for the NBA Draft:

Vanderbilt Hustler: How have you and your staff been affected by this virus, particularly the recruiting part of your job that now has to be done remotely, I presume?

Jerry Stackhouse: We’re trying to adjust, but we know everyone’s having to adjust. I think our guys having to abruptly leave campus has been tough, but at the same time we know that it’s needed and it’s important because everyone’s safety is of the utmost importance. Eventually we’ll get back to business as usual, but we’ve been trying to do things virtually. We’re doing our visits with some recruits, and those have gone well. It still doesn’t have the impact of being able to come on campus and see West End in the spring, so it’s definitely a little bit of a disadvantage.

As a young NBA player, you experienced the 1998-99 NBA lockout. How can you use that experience to help your players through this uncertain time when they may not have all the resources they need to work on their games?

I think in the lockout, it was a little different. In the lockout, you still had access to a gym. Even though you were locked out by the owners and the NBA, you were still able to go in and work out and still gather together socially. I think that’s the biggest difference in this, where everybody has to have accountability for doing things on your own. You’ve got to work out on your own. You’ve got to shoot on your own. Even the workouts we’re allowed to send to them, from a standpoint of strength and conditioning, there’s a lot of trust that’s needed right now. Hopefully, they’re being accountable and doing the things they need to do to improve because it’s going to be over eventually, and when we come back, we want to be ready to kick it right into gear.

Your first season as head coach is officially in the books, and I’m sure it didn’t have the result you had hoped for. What do you think prevented last year’s Commodore team from meeting expectations?

Well, I think for us, we had a big outlook to start the season because we were healthy. We had all of the pieces. We had a team that we felt could challenge and do something really special when we were whole, but we had some setbacks. Clevon [Brown] went down early in the season with the knee injury that cost him the year, and in the first game of conference play – SEC play – Aaron [Nesmith] goes down and needed to have surgery, so that just changed our trajectory a little bit. I still think we did a good job trying to adjust on the fly and figuring out how to play with what we had. We were figuring out what our best strengths were on the fly. In a perfect world, if those injuries were to happen, you’d like for them to happen in the preseason where we’re still trying to figure out who we were, but I think by the time those injuries happened for those guys, we knew who we wanted to be and then just had to adjust on the fly. Then, the SEC doesn’t offer any sympathy for you because of unfortunate situations. Injuries are a part of the game, and I think the fact that we only had six scholarship athletes last year was tough. Now that we’re going to have a full slate of guys, I don’t think having a setback like that would affect us as much as it did last year.

The team was definitely playing their best basketball during the last few weeks of the season. Was there something in particular you saw from your team that caused the late turnaround?

No, just give them credit. They just stayed the course. I think they started to believe a little bit more even with everything that had happened and the setbacks that we had. If we continued to come in and work hard in the things that we knew that we did well both offensively and defensively, we would still have a chance to win some games. We were able to do it with probably an unlikely cast of characters some nights. But I think that was the beauty of them buying in and understanding that it’s not about who they have, it’s more about us. And to our guys’ credit, they never wavered in that. There were some challenges, some growing pains, some tough games. That Georgia game sticks out in my mind. We did a lot of things rightsame thing going to Kentucky and having Kentucky hereand we just didn’t close it out the way that we could have or hopefully will in the future, having a little more experience.

This team shot a lot of threes this past season (786) and made a lot of them, especially with Aaron in the lineup. Losing him and likely Saben as well, how do you make up for that production and how does your offense change stylistically?

Well, we have a lot of new pieces that are added to the mix this year. I think D.J. Harvey is a guy that has been a primary scorer. We are looking for him to step in right away and be a primary scorer for us. He can score at all three levels. He can shoot the three, he can post, he can drive andhe can be a facilitator as well. And we are still adding to our roster by the time the season rolls around. Again, we would have loved to have that year of spring development, getting in the gym over the summer. We just don’t have that. But we still expect these guys to take another step, not only just from a physical standpoint, but what’s in between their ears right now, from understanding what we need to do to go about our business. We are excited about that. I never like to go into a season saying, “Ok, we are going to do this and we are going to do that.” I like to really get a feel for our group and see what their strengths are and try to play to our strengths and stay away from our weaknesses. I think a lot of people are like, “This is my way, this is my style, this is how we are going to play.” I mean, I want to utilize the three; the three is important for us; still getting to the paint is important for us. But, at the same time, if we have a guy who we can throw it down to the block to and he can go to work on the post and get us high percentage shots, then we want to play through the post. I think how we are going to best play is all determined on our personel from year to year.

Prior to Nashville, you had stints as a head coach in the G-League and assistant coach in the NBA. What adjustments did you have to make when you transitioned to college? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced recruiting, and how have you had to lean on your staff throughout this past year?

The college game is different from the pro game. Just little subtle things like the corner three-point shot. The corner three-point shot is deathly in the NBA if you leave guys open. In college, not so much. For whatever reason, teams don’t shoot it at a high percentage in college. If you can adjust defensively by helping off the corner a little bit more, there’s a couple defensive schemes and different things that you can do that you wouldn’t be able to do at the next level. You get to understand little subtleties like that. 

Then, the fact that you’re dealing with kids right out of high school as opposed to adults. With adults, you work with them for two or three hours, and then they go home. We have to manage this group a little bit more, and I think we have a great staff who’s been doing that. As far as recruiting, we just understand that there’s a certain type of kid that fits the mold of who we are, how we want to play and being able to come here and be successful academically and do well. So I think it’s a beautiful thing because now we know we can zone in on who makes sense for us from an athletic standpoint, from an academic standpoint, maybe trying to focus a little more geographically. I’m starting to notice that kids want to play close to home, so maybe our market isn’t the West Coast or the Northeast. It may be Georgia, places where they can jump in the car for four hours, Tennessee, different places where people really want to be closer to their families. I think with this pandemic and everything that’s going on, you’re going to see that even more, where people are not going to want to go across the country to go to college but be where they can be closer to their families and where their families can have access to them.

What conversations did you have with Saben Lee that led to his decision to declare for the NBA Draft?

I just try to give those guys as much positive information as I can give them, understanding that they got feedback from the advisory board to tell them where they feel like they would get slotted. I think those are good things to listen to, but at the same time, it’s a different game. You see so many guys that are declaring now, and is it the right thing to do? Again, it all depends. You just need one team to like you to be a late first round pick or an early second round pick and with Saben, I think that’s the possibility for him. People love his athletic ability, love his ability to get downhill, but the unfortunate thing about it is that he can’t go and workout. You normally have a combine during this time where he can go out and really showcase and compete against other guys. I don’t know where he’ll fall. Hopefully he and Aaron are pros, because I think that helps us as far as recruiting, knowing that guys can come here, see the jump that they made from last year to this year. When you look at them on paper and see the jump that they had, it’s hard for them not to say, ‘alright, I’m going to give it a shot.’ 

What can you tell us about Clevon Brown’s status with the team, and if you expect him to apply for and receive a medical redshirt?

We’re ecstatic about Clevon. Clevon did file for a waiver and received his waiver to play next year. We’re extremely excited about that. You can imagine, man, we’ve got a few more toys right now, so it should be fun. But he deserved it, man. You know, getting hurt, and it just so happened that he had a little bit of bad luck. Last year, we were so luckyif luck is good in getting hurtthat he got hurt in game nine. If he would have gotten hurt in game 10, he wouldn’t have been able to apply for a medical redshirt. The fact that it happened when it did, we’ll have him back, so we’re extremely excited about that.

The program landed recruits like Myles Stute in September and a verbal commitment from Tyrin Lawrence last week. What can we expect from Stute specifically and what impressed you about him on the recruiting trail?

I think Myles right now is a three. Whether he trends more toward a three-four or a three-two, I think we just have to wait and see as he works and as he develops, then we’ll figure it out more. But his ability to shoot the basketball is what stood out to me. He’s just a great kid from a great family. All the things we talk about with coming here, excelling not only on the court but in the classroomI think he embodies all of those things. His competitiveness is strong. He came to our elite camp this summer and we threw in just a few little things that we do within our team, and he just picked up on those things seamlessly. I’m excited about the prospects of what he can bring for us, like I said, both in the classroom and on the court.

Two transfers from last season, DJ Harvey and Quentin Millora-Brown, are set to be eligible this upcoming season. How have each of them developed their games in their time off this past season and how do you envision their roles for this upcoming season?

Both of those guys are huge because they were guys who competed at practice; they were able to practice everyday. And I think that may be part of our model, having guys that transfer, a  little bit older, come in, especially more the freshmen. It’s hard for upperclassmen to transfer into Vanderbilt because all of the credits don’t really translate. Now that they are possibly talking about not having to sit out and that’s on the table for them to vote on where guys can transfer one time without having to sit out, that can really market for us. Instead of guys that haven’t had the experience of going and being on a college campus, developing more physically, maturing a little more, then coming herebecause the stuff we do, it’s a learning curve and our guys to their credit, they were right on pace to start doing the things they did towards the end of the year. I’ve seen it. 

My season is normally 90 games, or 50 games and guys normally get it around game 20 or 25. In college, at game 20 or 25 your season is about over. And that is when you started to see us have a bit of an uptick, so we are feeling like we are on our way. But those guys are going to be big for us. They know the system, they have been able to do it for a whole year without having the pressure of going out in the game and having to perform. So we are expecting big things from those guys from a scoring standpoint, and defensive standpoint from DJ and from [Quentin Millora-Brown], he is just one of the smartest guys. He’s in the engineering program, so you already know. He is super super smart from the standpoint of talking, being an anchor for the defense, being able to play on the perimeter as well. Not only just his physical ability, but he has gotten better at being a post scorer. I think we are going to have a legitimate threat where we can throw it in the post and guys can cut and split, and if he doesn’t have anything, he can go to work. But I think more than anything, I think just his leadership and his ability to communicate what we want to have on the defensive end and offensively, is going to be tremendous for us and I think it’s going to help our other bigs as well.

You relied heavily on your freshmen last year, and Dylan Disu and Scotty Pippen Jr in particular were both key contributors. What do you hope those two can add to their games before the start of next season?

I would add Jordan Wright into that as well. I think he was a guy that was a contributor for us as the season got on. He had some ups and downs, and all of the freshmen did, and his leash might have been shorter because we had a plethora of wing guys and not so many bigs. Dylan Disu’s leash probably would have been a little bit shorter if we had Clevon Brown but that’s just kind of how it works. But we’re excited about those guys and their potential to take another step and be those leaders for us. Now again, we’re not coming in cold turkey and everybody having to kind of figure out what to do. They can come in and they’re first in line and show exactly how we do things, how we go about our business. We’ve been waiting to kind of get to this point where we have a foundation and now the guys that have been a part of it can carry it to the new guys. Scotty made the all-freshman team, had a great year. I put the ball in his hands right away. I felt like he was going to be our long-term solution of being able to run this team and he did a great job. He got better each game, both offensively and defensively. Dylan didn’t shoot the ball as well as he’s capable of shooting. I still think that his best days are ahead of him from a standpoint of not only being a great pick-and-pop shooter but expanding his game and being able to put it on the floor and play with his back to the basket a little bit. I just think he has room to grow. Again, that’s why I’m so disappointed about not being able to be in the gym with these guys, because it’s a big time for them. But, eventually we’ll get back and we’ll pick off where we left off. Jordan had a knack just to score the basketball. He has a toughness about him. I always get at him because he just has the mentality that “I’m the guy.” And it’s good to have those types of guys on your roster. I told him he wasn’t the guy, but he eventually will be. And I think that could very well happen to him because he has that type of confidence. 

Without a combine and with some NBA GM’s a bit in the dark, have you fielded calls about Aaron Nesmith and had to kind of go to bat for him? Were you planning on being there?

I think the good thing about it is tape doesn’t lie. When they watch him and see the things that he does and how he rescreens and comes off screens and the clip that he shot the basketball, obviously coming from the NBA, they saw a ton of NBA sets and actions, so that’s the beautiful thing about how these guys are able to showcase themselves. They’re going to have the terminology, they’re going to have all of the things that make the transition seamless to that next level. It almost helped him a little that things have slowed down. It gives his surgery and the injury that he had time to heal. Everybody that’s called about him, it’s just rave reviews man. He’s a superhero. He’s a superstar. When it comes to doing what you ask him as a leader in the weight room, as a leader on the court, when he was on his bike and he was in the cast, still being a leader, still being a voice, still maintaining what he needed to do in the classroom, even now with all the excitement and meeting with agents and talking about endorsements and financial advisors, he’s still finishing up strong. He’s focused on finishing out this semester so he’ll have an opportunity to come back and get his degree. He’s a rockstar and that’s the way we’re going to continue to support him. I wanted two more years, I thought that I could help him for two more years, but I know that it’s the right thing for him to do and the right thing for his family and we’re going to support him 1000 percent.

Anywhere you’d like to see him go?

I hope it’s New Orleans. That’s what I’m pulling for. With Brandon Ingram out there and that young group, Lonzo Ball and Zion [Williamson], they need another shooter. JJ Redick is getting a little bit older so I think he could learn from JJ for a year and then just be ready to take over as a big-time shooter for them, so fingers crossed for that.

Content has been edited for clarity and length.