In a new weekly feature, Vanderbilt basketball color commentator Tim Thompson has agreed to partner with VandySports.com to give our readers an in-depth look at what's happening with Commodore basketball.
In our first segment, Thompson talks about several things, including VU's showing in the South Padre Island Invitational and the development of guards Jermaine Beal and George Drake as well as the emergence of center A.J. Ogilvy.
Here's the scoop from Thompson, who was interviewed by VandySports.com's Chris Lee on Tuesday.
CL: "Talk about what you saw at South Padre in general, out of Vanderbilt."
TT: "I think that they're growing and maturing as a team, and I think this was a very good tournament for Vanderbilt, based on the teams that they played. The first team they played down there was Utah State, and they had a guy named Jaycee Carroll that was just a kid who ran off screens—and Utah State is just a really well-coached team that really put Vanderbilt in a position that they had to guard extensively through a ton of picks and screens, which they're not accustomed to doing in a half-court defense.
"I really think it put them in a situation—they won the game pretty convincingly—but it also put them in a position where they had to do things that they weren't accustomed to doing.
"And then the next night against Bradley—which I thought was an outstanding team, really well-coached by Jim Les—they were a little bit of a different [look], because they set ball screens, and they were switching small guys onto our bigger guys, and our bigger guys had to do a good job of hedging and those kinds of things.
"Again, we got out to a big lead against them—I think we were up 21 at one time, we were up 18 at half—Bradley comes back and actually is within one with two or three minutes left.
"And the thing I liked about this, in talking about maturing, we had some freshman come in. Keegan Bell came in and really gave some good minutes, and the kid I really like right now is Andre Walker, who really came in and did a good job.
"Red (Alex Gordon) and Shan Foster both stepped up as seniors, big-time, down the stretch. Gordon knocks down a little mid-range jump-shot to put us up by three, and we end up winning the basketball game.
"But again, Bradley was an extremely athletic team, and kind of put us in a position of what to expect once we hit some of the SEC games. I think Kevin [Stallings] and his staff realize that this tournament that we played down there is something that's going to benefit us down the road."
CL: "Tim, if you include the two [tournament] games in Nashville, those were four teams that are picked to do fairly-well. Are those four teams we could see in the NCAAs in March?"
TT: "Yes. I think Valpo is another team, Austin Peay—based on the league that they play in—they're probably not going to get more than one team in the NCAA, but Austin Peay is definitely going to be able to compete for that conference championship.
"I've got to believe that Bradley will be the same way, then you look at Utah State—unbelievable amounts of 20-win seasons—that they will be able to do the same thing.
"So, there could be three or four teams we played in this tournament that could be in the NCAA Tournament."
CL: "Do you think that what you saw in [South Padre] was sort of a coming-out party for Jermaine Beal, perhaps?"
TT: "Yeah. Again, I think you go back to the maturation process. He's starting to mature to the point where—he was having to deal with Daniel Ruffin, who is a very talented point guard for Bradley, who is much quicker, 5-10. Jermaine used his size to sort of overcome some of that quickness that the other player had.
"I like the way he's playing. He's playing under control, he did a good job of getting the ball to other players, and you look at him—his frame, he's about 6-3, 210—and the one thing he can do as a point guard that you really love is to shoot his free throws great. Once you get him in a situation into the game, ball in his hands, you're pretty-much guaranteed you're doing to make two free throws.
"He's a kid that's a sophomore that I really think is going to be a solid player. The one thing I like—and give Jermaine all the credit on this—is that he really improved his jump shot over the summertime, and that's one of the things that's helped him, because he's always been a threat in taking it to the basket, but at the same time now, he's able to knock down that mid-range jump shot, and also improve his 3-point shooting as well."
CL: "Tim, do you think that, as the season progresses, that he's going to get more time at the point, and Red will slide over to [shooting guard]? Do you think they'll continue to split [time at the point]? How do you see that panning out?"
TT: "I think you're probably going to see Jermaine have the most minutes at the point, because Red is such an effective shooter. Again, you've got Keegan Bell, which kind of goes into the mix, because he can go in and spell Jermaine [at point]. Or, you can use Red as the point guard, and sometimes, you can even put Shan at the 2-man.
"So, there's a lot of flexibility within the players that you see on the team. But I've got to believe that Jermaine's going to play mostly the 1. Sometimes, he might slide to the 2, just depending on the situation in the game that you're playing."
CL: "Kind of on that note, are we seeing signs that George Drake is ready to come in and help them out with some scoring at the 2 as well?"
TT: "Yeah, I think so. I've always thought he was the best athlete on the team, and there's a couple of times he showed spurts of just really unbelievable athletic ability. The one thing that George has to do, I think, is know what his role is on the team.
"He's one of those guys that could actually be a big-time defensive stopper. He's 6-4, 210, he could potentially guard a 2, 3, even a 4-man at times, and I think that's one of the things that, as he kind of gets into the rhythm of what his expectation is on the team, that he's going to fit in much better than he is right now.
"I think he's still trying to find his role a little bit. Sometimes, he thinks he's a little bit more of a scorer than he thinks he is, and other times when we really need him defensively, he needs to step up as well. But, I see him really starting to come out this year."
CL: "Tim, it's kind of odd that the way a team plays can change so much with the presence of one player, but talk about what Andrew Ogilvy is giving Vanderbilt so far."
TT: "Well, you know, Vanderbilt has always had great perimeter shooting, and all the other teams in the league notice that, too. So basically, what they've done is extended their defense to the perimeter and just said, 'If you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw it down inside.'
"In previous years, we've not had that threat down low at the block. Times have changed now. All you have to do is go watch Vanderbilt play right now, and A.J. Ogilvy is a kid that, when you get that ball down low on the block, it's either going to be two points or he's going to get fouled, and he's about a 75 to 80 percent free throw shooter. So, he's going to get you points at the free throw line as well.
"But, beyond that, just the toughness that the kid brings to both ends of the court—he's got great hands when he gets rebounds, he doesn't get stripped.
"One thing he can do that I really like, when the ball is delivered down low in the post, and he gets double-teamed, he gets the ball out to the perimeter with very solid passes. He doesn't float the pass, so what that does is put the perimeter guys in situations where they're going to get more open looks from the perimeter based on how he plays the block.
"Number one, he's a great player, but he's a great kid, too. And he fits in. He's not selfish. That's the thing that I love about this team is, the way they distribute the basketball, they don't care who scores.
"But A.J. Ogilvy is probably the center point of this team at this point, because of what he does at both ends of the floor."
Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Tim Thompson tomorrow. In it, he talks more about Ogilvy's potential as well as his thoughts on the Southeastern Conference in the season's first month.