Thrill of Victory

Additions of Jeter, McClellan are huge for Vandy

When Vanderbilt’s men hit the basketball floor this November, it’ll take some time for Commodore fans to get used to the new look of their team. It’s hard to imagine Vandy without stars Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, or for that matter, Lance Goulbourne, Steve Tchiengang, or Brad Tinsley, but that’s exactly the predicament now that Jenkins has declared for the NBA Draft and the other five have graduated.

To spell it out plainly: those six guys accounted for 93 percent of VU’s scoring last year. The leading returning scorer, Kedren Johnson, averaged 3.1 points a game last season.

If that wasn’t enough to engender a sense of panic for Vandy fans, the Commodores’ whiffing on most of their top recruiting targets last fall was. The blow that especially hurt came when Clarksville native Alex Poythress announced he’d attend Kentucky on Nov. 10. So not only did coach Kevin Stallings lose a player whom he’d doggedly recruited for three years, but he lost him to one of VU’s chief rivals.

That left Vandy fans feeling like they woke up on Christmas morning to discover that Santa left them a lump of coal instead of a shiny new bike. If I may stick with the theme of seasonal holiday benevolence, it appears that the Easter Bunny was much nicer, because within the last week, the Commodores got commitments from two coveted players, Pennsylvania high school star Sheldon Jeter and University of Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan.

Here’s more on each:

Pittsburgh Player of the Year Jeter gives VU help on the wing
Vanderbilt pursued Jeter heavily this spring, and the persistence paid off when the Beaver Falls, Pa. (yes, the same hometown as Joe Namath) star picked the Commodores over Penn State, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Jeter averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals per game while leading Beaver Falls to a state runner-up finish.

The 6-foot-8, 212-pounder is a lean athlete whom recruiting expert Jesse Johnson thinks can play either forward spot. At this point, Jeter’s skills seem to fit more at the wing (check out the professionally-produced video link that follows); his best attributes in high school seemed to be his ability to drive and finish with dunks, or shoot the 3. rated him the 150th-best player in this year’s senior class.

Wherever he plays, Jeter will be counted on immediately because Taylor and Goulbourne consumed an average of 30 minutes a game last season between the three and four positions. If the wing is where he settles, it sets up an interesting battle for playing time between him and Germany’s Kevin Bright, another incoming freshman.

Versatile McClellan should have major role in 2013
Over the last 20 years or so, Vanderbilt has thrived off the transfer market. However, transfers have to sit out a year, and so McClellan, who started 16 games for Tulsa last season, will only be able to contribute as a practice player this coming fall and winter.

McClellan is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard from Austin, Texas, who in 23 minutes per contest averaged 8.5 points per game, with shooting percentages of 43, 74 and 38 percent, respectively, from the field, the foul line, and 3-point range. Commodore assistant David Cason, who recruited McClellan to Tulsa before moving to Vandy last year, promised the sophomore-to-be that he could play point, but he’s versatile enough to play the two-spot also.

McClellan wasn’t a highly-recruited player out of high school, but picked up serious interest from Baylor, Gonzaga, Illinois and Marquette this time around. Just look at his season stat lines, and you can see why: he got better as the year progressed.

His starts all came in the last 16 games, and he played at least 30 minutes in each of the last four contests. McClellan’s best game was his last: a 25-point, seven-rebound, five-assist effort in 46 minutes against Marshall. Best of all, he needed only 11 shots to get those points.

The downside to McClellan is turnovers: 93 of them last year, which were offset by just 67 assists. That’s where a year of sitting out could have a long-term upside for Vandy, because it appears that McClellan is good at everything else.