Festus Ezeli's life, career paths take him back to Africa

Festus Ezeli has come a long way – literally and figuratively.

Born in Nigeria, he moved to the United States in 2004 as a 15-year-old and a year later he got cut the first time he tried out for his high school basketball team.

Now he is back in Nigeria as an NBA champion.

Ezeli will play for the Africa Team in Saturday’s NBA Africa Game, a first-of-its-kind event for that continent that will take place Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“To bring NBA basketball out there just shows how much basketball has grown in that continent," Ezeli told Yahoo Sports, in a lenghty piece about his life and his professional journey. "Pretty soon, Africa is going to be a contender in basketball. Eventually, it's going to rival the United States. We just haven't tapped that resource yet. This is the beginning."

Between his arrival in the United States and his recent turn as a role player for the Golden State Warriors in their run to the 2015 NBA championship, Ezeli spent five years at Vanderbilt, where he developed into an NBA draft pick (30th overall in 2012).

His mother preferred he go to Harvard, something each of them recounted for Yahoo, but Ezeli was interested in the best possible balance between education and basketball.

Now his mother would rather he not return to Africa because of concerns for his safety. Ezeli again made his own decision.

"I've been beyond lucky, blessed or whatever it is," Ezeli said via Yahoo. "I've had people come into my life that I never expected. I've had people come and support me that I never expected. They all are a part of my journey.

"… Nothing is impossible. You just have to be able to dream big and work hard for it."

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 31, 2015 11:59 AM

General manager says Price makes Blue Jays look more like winners

The Toronto Blue Jays have been good enough this season to be in the playoff chase with 60 games remaining.

They expect David Price to make them better.

Toronto, which has not made the postseason since 1993, when it won the second of back-to-back World Series titles, traded for the left-hander out of Vanderbilt on Thursday, a move their general manager believes gives them a chance to win it all this season.

"We really haven't had a true No. 1 since Roy Halladay was here [from 1998-2009]," Alex Anthopoulos said, according to MLB.com. "You kind of forget what it was like, the innings, the expectations of winning day in and day out.

“… I think getting guys like Price, that type of impact, those No. 1 starters can make you a great team all by themselves.”

Price, a five-time All-Star and the 2012 A.L. Cy Young Award winner, is among the Major Leagues’ top five in innings pitched (146) and is in the top 12 in strikeouts (138) and ERA (2.53). He was 9-4 in 21 starts for the Tigers prior to the trade.

He also has pitched in the playoffs five times in his seven MLB seasons.

Chances are he won’t be with the Blue Jays for long. He is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season.

For Anthopoulos, whose team was four games back in the A.L. wild card race at the time of the trade, the future is for another day.

"These types of players, the great superstar players, rarely become available,” the general manager said. “We had an opportunity to do it, it's more of a reflection on the belief of the guys that we have right now on the roster.

“We think we're a good team and adding a guy like Price, we think makes us that much stronger and gives us a chance to win.”

And if Price helps them do that, he’ll have a lasting impact – regardless of how long he stays.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 31, 2015 5:10 AM

Prep for SEC hoops season to take Vanderbilt out of Memorial Gym more than usual

Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball team will get around a little more than usual before it gets down to the business of conference play this season.

Six of the Commodores’ 14 games outside of SEC play will be outside of Memorial Gymnasium. That’s two more than last season and matches the largest number for any of the previous 10 seasons. The last time Kevin Stallings’ team was so well-travelled so early was 2012-13. That season included at neutral site game in downtown Nashville at Bridgestone Arena.

This season’s first three non-conference contests will be at home, beginning Nov. 13 against Austin Peay. After that Vanderbilt will play three games in Hawaii as part of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, make two trips to Texas for games at Baylor (Dec. 6) and Texas (Jan. 30) and one at Purdue. The game against Texas is part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which for the first time this season will be confined to one day, after the start of the respective conference seasons.  

ON THE MOVE
A look at the number of non-conference road/neutral site games Vanderbilt basketball has scheduled from 2005-06 through 2015-16, with the record in those games in parentheses:

2015-16: 6 (TBD)
2014-15: 4 (2-2)
2013-14: 5 (2-3)
2012-13: 6 (2-4)
2011-12: 5 (4-1)
2010-11: 5 (3-2)
2009-10: 6 (3-3)
2008-09: 5 (4-1)
2007-08: 4 (4-0)
2006-07: 5 (3-2)
2005-06: 4 (3-1)

This year’s non-conference road games include at least five against teams the played in last year’s NCAA Tournament. That number could rise depending on what happens for the final two games of the Maui Invitational.

“We’re excited to release our non-conference schedule, which is one of the more challenging schedules that we’ve put together since I’ve been here,” Stallings said in a release from the athletics department. “Our schedule really does have it all - home-and-home games with NCAA Tournament teams, a trip to Maui for three games against some of college basketball’s best teams, and home games against teams that had record-breaking seasons a year ago.

“Our guys are up to the challenge, and we’re ready for an exciting 2015-16 season.”
 

Jul 29, 2015 11:47 AM

Vanderbilt hoops to face St. John's at Maui Invitational

The 2015 Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship round bracket was set Tuesday and Vanderbilt, which will play in the tournament for the fifth time, was matched up with St. John’s.

The Commodores and Red Storm will kick off the three days of play at Maui, 1:30 p.m. Nov. 23. The second game will be the next day against either Wake Forest or Indiana.

The teams that compete in the championship round, which also includes Kansas, UCLA, UNLV and host Chaminade, are guaranteed three games.

Prior to their trip to Maui, the Commodores will host Austin Peay in an opening-round game, Nov. 13. Austin Peay will then compete in the tournament’s region round with Northern Colorado, Cal Poly and Maryland-Baltimore County.

Vanderbilt has yet to release its 2015-16 schedule. The complete non-conference portion is expected in the next several days.

Jul 28, 2015 12:36 PM

Vanderbilt product winning at record rate for minor league team

The chance to pitch in the Major Leagues is not exactly within Jared Miller’s reach at the moment.

The former Vanderbilt left-hander, though, is on pace to push the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops’ record for wins well out of reach.

Miller won his seventh game (he is 7-1) for the short-season Class A club on Sunday, the halfway point of the Northwest League’s season. That already was a record for Hillsboro, which began play in 2013. However, the franchise was founded in 1977 and previously has been in Salem, Ore. and Yakima, Wash.

The all-time franchise record is eight wins, shared by four players between 1991 and 2012. Miller, an 11th round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014, can equal that one in his next appearance.

Hillsboro, a Diamondbacks affiliate, was the Northwest League’s South Division first-half champion with a 22-16 record, two games better than the second-place club. That means Miller was responsible for nearly one-third of his team’s victories.

In 54.2 innings he allowed 48 base runners (37 hits 11 walks) and struck out 52. His ERA is 1.65.

He started the season with Kane County (Ill.), a full-season Class A club in the Midwest League. There he was 2-3 with a 6.91 ERA.

Jul 28, 2015 6:49 AM

Swanson's professional debut delayed by pitch to the face

Dansby Swanson’s professional career is off to a rough start. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft was hit in the face during a simulated game Thursday at the Arizona Diamondbacks extended spring training facility.

Baseball America reported the incident Sunday.

From that report:

The extent of Swanson’s injuries was not immediately known, although a source confirmed he did not suffer any fractures. The injury likely will force him to remain in Arizona longer. The former Vanderbilt star had been expected to join short-season Hillsboro (Sunday).

The pitcher was Yoan Lopez, a 22-year-old Cuban who is another top Diamondbacks' prospect by virtue of the significant deal he signed in January.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 27, 2015 5:25 AM

Former Vanderbilt snapper makes name for himself with public proposal

When it comes to his job, the best thing Andrew East can do is make sure no one notices him.

The former Vanderbilt long-snapper took a decidedly different approach with his personal life.

An undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs, East made national headlines in the sports and entertainment worlds Friday when he proposed to Shawn Johnson, an Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics. He popped the question in front of tens of thousands of people after Johnson threw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game.

The couple met at Vanderbilt and had dated for a little more than two years.

The proposal prompted reports from a wide variety of news sources, including People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, ESPN.com and SportsIllustrated.com. Each also posted their respective versions of the event on social media outlets.

Long-snappers have the potential for long NFL careers but they also tend to be among the most anonymous players on any roster. The general thinking is that they’re only noticed when they do something wrong. Thus, many strive to remain unknown.

East was the Commodores’ snapper for the past four seasons, a total of 51 games, but the bulk of his recognition was a result of what he did off the field. He was a two-time member SEC Academic Honor Roll, a member of the 2014 SEC Good Works Team and the AFCA National Good Works team and a finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy, which recognizes players for their combination of athletics, academics and community service.

Now a whole lot of people know who he is.

(Photo: Twitter/Andrew East)

Jul 27, 2015 5:05 AM

Swanson says he was all ears during three seasons at Vanderbilt

Dansby Swanson says that one of the most important lessons he learned during his three years as a Vanderbilt baseball player was to listen.

In particular, the first pick in the 2015 MLB draft wrote in an entry Friday on The Players Tribune, it is best to heed the advice of those who experiences exceed yours. The program established by coach Tim Corbin not only makes it easy to understand the benefits of doing so, it provides easy access to those exact types of resources.

What do you say when Sonny Gray, David Price and Pedro Alvarez are behind the batting cage watching you hit?

Not much. You just listen to their advice.

That was how Swanson started his piece on the website, founded by New York Yankees great Derek Jeter that allows athletes to provide first-person accounts of their lives and careers. Swanson talked at length about a preseason workout in Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez offered extensive advice on how to study pitchers and approach at-bats. Alvarez, of course, was an All-American third baseman with the Commodores.

Swanson also said Price, currently a pitcher with the Detroit Tigers, is “like a big brother to me” as he talked about the enduring connection to the program for former Vanderbilt players.

At Vandy, we always had Major Leaguers stopping by, saying hello to Coach Corbin, lifting at the gym and getting to know the current team. Once people leave, they always come back. It says something about the love that everyone has for this place.

Swanson’s story provides a clear sense of his appreciation for the Vanderbilt baseball program – and makes it seem highly likely he’ll be back to help future members.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 24, 2015 1:17 PM

Former Vanderbilt receiver picks second school for second chance

Jordan Cunningham has found a place to continue his college football career.

Again.

Wednesday, the former Vanderbilt wide receiver posted on his Twitter and Instagram accounts that he would transfer to North Carolina. That, course, came a little more than two months after he announced via social media that he planned to play at Cincinnati.

It was not clear what happened with Cincinnati or what prompted this latest change of heart. His excitement over the move was obvious, though, in a series of tweets.

• I will be transferring to the University of North Carolina to finish my college career and continue to execute my career plans. #TarHeels

• UNC is a prestigious academic institution that provides an exceptional opportunity at the Kenan Flagler School of Business

• UNC- elite quality football program management and coaching stability, exceptional Strength & Conditioning Program, and A Superior Offense!

• Thank you @CoachFedora @CoachBrewerUNC @SethLittrell & the entire football staff, & UNC admissions for this amazing opportunity. God Bless!

Cunningham, a wide receiver from Fort Lauderdale, was one of the top recruits in Vanderbilt’s 2013 signing class, the last for former coach James Franklin and his staff. He was one of seven players in that year’s group rated a four-star prospect by multiple recruiting sites (Rivals, ESPN).

As a true freshman, he finished fifth on the team with 15 receptions for 123 yards. Last fall he caught just four passes in three games before he left the team for personal reasons. He never got back to playing football for the Commodores.

(Photo: Getty Images)


 

Jul 23, 2015 9:40 AM

Record-setting Vanderbilt running back Frank Mordica dies

Frank Mordica, one of the greatest running backs in Vanderbilt history, died of a heart attack Saturday in his hometown, Tallahassee, Fla. He was exercising at the time of his passing.

He was 57.

Vanderbilt’s athletics department announced the passing of the one-time Commodores’ career rushing leader Wednesday.

Mordica was the first player in program history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season when had 1,065 (with eight touchdowns) as a junior in 1978. He finished his career with 2,632 yards, a record that stood until Zac Stacy broke it 2012.

His 321 rushing yards in a single game (against Air Force, Nov. 18, 1978) remains a Vanderbilt record, 107 more than any other player in program history. Arkansas’ Darren McFadden rushed for 321 in a game in 2007 but no SEC player has rushed for more.

The New Orleans Saints drafted Mordica in the ninth round in 1980 but a knee injury forced him out of football prior to his rookie season.

Mordica completed his degree at Vanderbilt in 1981 and then entered the Navy. He remained on active duty until 2011, when he retired having achieved the rank of master chief petty officer.

(Photo: Vanderbilt University)
 

Jul 23, 2015 6:10 AM