We’re still a month away from basketball on West End, but you wouldn’t know it by the crowd at Memorial Gym on Tuesday afternoon.
It was NBA scouts, however, not fans, that surrounded the court to watch Vanderbilt basketball on the team’s pro day. While most scouts walked through the door with their eyes on freshman phenoms Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, the entire roster showcased a little bit of what’s to come this season. Here are five takeaways from Vanderbilt’s pro day:
Shittu Recovering Smoothly
Bryce Drew has been cautious with Simi Shittu, who is the top recruit in program history. Recovering from a torn ACL, Shittu was only recently cleared for contact drills, and Tuesday marked his first 5-on-5 action since his injury last January. But the 6’10” forward was out there participating in full, showcasing the talent that made him such a hot commodity coming out of high school.
“I feel great,” Shittu said. “Best my body’s ever felt.”
The rust was prevalent early in the workout, as Shittu struggled to find his jumpshot and occasionally botched finishes around the rim, but his unique skillset started oozing out of him in 5-on-5’s. Shittu looked at home leading break off rebounds, finding his teammates and passing excellently out of the high post. In drills, his high-flying ability was on display, and he lived above the rim. Expect Shittu to be 100% when the season begins.
Backcourt Duo Looks Lethal
Garland’s recruitment brought about a lot of questions surrounding the role of Saben Lee in the offense, but if Tuesday was any indication, this backcourt duo is set to shine this season. Garland looked the part of a prototypical point guard, running the offense and finding shooters around the perimeter, while Lee played the role of a scoring guard. Garland routinely found Lee for buckets in the half-court offense, and the two seem to enjoy playing together.
“It’s great,” said Garland of playing alongside Lee. “His speed is unbelievable. He can get on the break and I can run to the corner, or he can run to the corner. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Garland found Lee in the corner a couple times in scrimmages, and Lee didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and hit from three. It’s one of the areas in which he’s really improved over the past year, and he showcased it in front of a room of 54 NBA scouts. Simply put, Lee was the best player on the floor all afternoon. His combination of touch on his jumper and ability to finish around the rim should come in handy for this team.
Ryan Shows Off Hot Shooting
Vanderbilt has thrived off the three-ball in recent history, often counting on the bulk of the team’s points to come from beyond the arc. With Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Peyton Willis, and Jeff Roberson gone, though, the Commodores have to look elsewhere to find sharpshooters that can space the floor offensively.
Enter Matt Ryan, the Notre Dame transfer who sat out all of last season. Ryan perfectly fills that catch-and-shoot role for the Commodores, and his shooting performance at the pro day was nothing short of brilliant. Ryan has the potential to be the best shooter this program has seen since John Jenkins, and it’s all in his form.
His shooting stroke is textbook, and his super quick release allows him to get his shot off even with a defender in his face. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s 6’8”. Drew had Ryan on the court with what looked to be the rest of the starting lineup, so expect him to be playing the three when the season starts November 6th.
Wetzell the Answer at Center?
Another transfer, Yanni Wetzell, sat out last season after two successful campaigns for Division II’s St. Mary’s University in Texas, and there were times where the Commodores really could have used his efforts last season.
This year, he looks to be Bryce Drew’s five-man in the mold of Luke Kornet. While Wetzell doesn’t have Kornet’s shot-blocking ability in the paint, he does have the ability to stretch the floor, while should allow for more straight-line drives from guards like Lee and Garland.
On Tuesday, the New Zealand native showed that he can hold his own as an aggressive SEC big, which should bring more stability to a frontcourt that has really lacked it in recent years. Ejike Obinna and Clevon Brown figure to come off the bench to spell Wetzell during the season. Brown gave Vanderbilt good minutes last year playing center, but he’ll get more of an opportunity to play his more natural position as a four this year. Obinna looked improved in his own right, showcasing tenacity in the paint and a short jumper to match, but Wetzell is likely the guy going forward.
If Tuesday showcased anything it all, it was the likelihood that Garland and Shittu will be gone after this season. 54 NBA scouts from 29 teams (Portland was the only team with no scouts present) prove that Vanderbilt’s freshmen are getting legitimate looks at the next level. Pending a successful season, it’s not a matter of if they will be drafted, but when. Of course, this has always been the expectation, even when Bryce Drew recruited the two highly-touted high schoolers, but the influx of NBA personnel at Memorial Gym really cemented it.
“They’re special players. Even if you get them for one day or one game, it’s worth it,” Drew said. “On the flip side, if they do go in a year, you’ve got a big hole to fill in recruiting.”
As for Shittu and Garland, they seem to be focused on the task at hand.
“I’m not thinking about it at all,” Garland said of the NBA Draft. “I’m thinking about college right now. I’m here to win games and go to the Tournament.”