When the 2013 SEC Tournament begins next year in Nashville — with 14 teams — expect to see that image at left over and over and over again in television opens and in “this is what the tourney means” montage pieces produced by ESPN/ABC.
Kevin Stallings’ surprising show of emotion prompted David Climer of The Tennessean to write: “… we saw a coach who cares very, very deeply about his players, his program, his university. And the feeling is mutual.”
Indeed, back in 2009 Stallings’ turned down a $100,000 salary bump that was due him so Vanderbilt could use that cash for an offseason basketball tour of Australia for his team instead. The guys cares about his players and his program.
As for his emotions on Sunday, Stallings said:
“When you invest a lot, you care a lot. What I’m most proud of is the investment that’s occurred by this group of young men in our program. To see those guys get to experience what they experienced, that was a great feeling for me.”
Stallings also had to be feeling a bit of relief.
In 12 seasons at VU, the coach has led the Commodores to five NCAA Tournaments. Twice they made the Sweet Sixteen. Three times — including the last two seasons — they’d gone one-and-done in March Madness.
Vandy fans wanted more from a veteran squad that was projected as a Top 10 team in the preseason. Throughout the regular season, they failed to live up to expectations. But yesterday in New Orleans, Stallings and his players showed their potential.
We have no doubts that Stallings wept for his players’ joy. But finally experiencing a “breakthrough” tourney moment of his own had to play some role in his emotional display as well.
Congrats to him and to Vanderbilt for their upset and their SEC Tournament crown.