Kevin Stallings, the NBA draft and what it all means

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 7 years ago


Vanderbilt's Wade Baldwin, a projected lottery pick in Thursday's NBA draft (USATSI)

The NBA is something of a four-letter word here in Pittsburgh – is it really just because there’s not a team here? – so I’m not sure how closely people will be following tonight’s draft. If you’re a Pitt fan, however, there is some relevancy to Thursday’s proceedings.

As I detailed in a story in today’s Post-Gazette, two of Kevin Stallings’ former players at Vanderbilt – Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones – are widely considered to be first-round NBA draft picks, with Baldwin almost universally projected as a lottery selection. Having two guys in that position is an impressive feat, one that has happened only once before time in the program’s history, but there are larger questions at play. Namely, what does that say about Stallings’ ability to recruit and develop talent? And can that translate to Pitt?

In Stallings’ 17 years at Vanderbilt, the Commodores had seven players get drafted. One of them, Dan Langhi, was already at the school when Stallings arrived in 1999 and another, Derrick Byars, transferred to Vanderbilt from Virginia. It’s also important to note that Raptors forward (and owner of a four-year $60-million contract) DeMarre Carroll played for Stallings for two seasons before transferring to Missouri to play for his uncle, Mike Anderson.

That is, undoubtedly, a pretty strong record, especially at a school that had 11 draft picks in the 33 years prior to Stallings’ tenure. What standing did these players have before arriving in Nashville? And what of their careers once they got to the NBA?

Let’s take a look.


Dan Langhi, 1999

31st overall pick (second round)

NBA stats: four seasons; 3 pts, 1.5 rebs per game.

Recruiting: N/A


Matt Freije, 2004

54th overall pick (second round)

NBA stats: Played two seasons (04-05, 06-07); 3.2 points, 2 rebs per game

Recruiting: N/A


Derrick Byars, 2007

42nd overall pick (second round)

NBA stats: 2 games with San Antonio in 2011-12 season; 5 pts, 5.5 rebs

Recruiting: 3 stars


Shan Foster, 2008

51st overall pick (second round)

Never played in an NBA game

Recruiting; 4 stars, No. 12 small forward


John Jenkins, 2012

23rd overall pick (first round)

NBA stats: fourth season; 5.2 pts, 1.5 rebs per game, 44.9 FG%, 36.3 3pt%. Averaged 4.1 ppg last season. Was traded midseason from Dallas to Phoenix.

Recruiting: 4 stars, No. 10 shooting guard


Festus Ezeli, 2012

30th overall pick (first round)

NBA stats: third season, all with Golden State; 4.2 points, 4.3 rebs and 1 block per game in 16.7 min per game. Averaged 7 points and 5.6 rebounds this season.

Recruiting: 3 stars, No. 48 center


Jeffrey Taylor, 2012

31st overall pick (second round)

NBA stats: Three seasons; 6.1 pts, 2 rebs per game

Recruiting: 3 stars, No. 24 small forward

Now plays in Spain.


There are a couple of things to glean from this. The first is that, if you don’t include Carroll, none of his players have done particularly well in the NBA, except for maybe Ezeli (if you ignore that gruesome Game Seven performance last Sunday).

The bigger point, though, is that aside from Foster and Jenkins, none of these players had more than three stars coming out of high school. Stallings’ plan at Vanderbilt was fairly straightforward when it comes to this topic. He wasn’t going to be able to lure surefire NBA talent, so he had to identify undervalued or overlooked assets and develop them to the point where they could be workable players in his system and, possibly, make it to the next level. The numbers say he was pretty good at executing that.

As has been noted from virtually the moment Stallings was hired, Vanderbilt has certain academic restrictions that can make it difficult for a coach to recruit a wide range of prospects. The prevailing thought has been Stallings will have an easier time trying to successfully sign some of those once-unattainable players at Pitt.

We’ll see if that turns out to be the case, but there’s something important that should be noted regarding Stallings and the NBA. In that 17-year span at Vanderbilt, when seven of his players were drafted, Pitt had eight players selected – Vonteego Cummings, Mark Blount, Chris Taft, Aaron Gray, Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, Steven Adams and Lamar Patterson. Granted, Stallings’ two players this year will allow him to surpass that Dixon/Howland total – unless, barring something incredibly unforeseen, James Robinson gets drafted – but it gives us a moment to tap the proverbial brakes a bit. Stallings did a nice job getting future NBA players to a campus where they didn’t flock to in droves in the past, but the man he’s replacing did as well as or better at that same task.

The importance of all of this is downplayed by some, but getting players to the NBA is an important skill for a coach to have. Save for a few exceptions, a vast majority of prospects enter college with NBA aspirations, even if it exists as nothing more than a pipe dream. Along with, maybe, a national championship, it’s the ultimate goal.

Schools like Vanderbilt and, to a lesser extent, Pitt are not regularly going to attract the highest-rated recruits, the ones seemingly destined for an NBA future. That’s not a knock; very few schools occupy that enviable tier. So, if you’re not in that rarefied air, the best you can do is get players, develop them to the closest thing to their full potential and send them off to the league. History, location and facilities are all important recruiting tools, but a proven track record of transforming players to the point where they make millions makes for a one hell of a pitch.

Inevitably, the problem for Stallings is that even with that NBA talent, he never made it past the Sweet 16 and his 2015-16 squad with two first-round picks went 19-14 and lost in the play-in round of the NCAA tournament.

And therein lies some of the trepidation with the Stallings hire. He has shown he can accrue talent; he just has yet to prove he can win big with it, something that can turn an otherwise celebratory occasion like tonight into a condemnation.

Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG