Vandy Is Dandy
Led by senior forward Dan Langhi, Vanderbilt knocked off three top 25 teams in 11 days
Dan Langhi's alarm clock rang at 7:30 a.m. last Saturday. He shaved, showered and ate some scrambled eggs; kissed his wife, Emily; hugged his 15-month-old daughter, Hannah; and left his Nashville apartment for work. Going to the job on Saturday is nothing new for Langhi, whom Emily calls "a regular nine-to-five workaholic," but having stunning success in his chosen field is. On Saturday, for example, Langhi, a senior forward for Vanderbilt, further embellished his r�sum� in a 65-62 victory over LSU that propelled the upstart Commodores (12-2) into the Top 25—at No. 20—for the first time in six seasons.
When Langhi turned down scholarship offers from Duke, Indiana and Connecticut before his freshman year in 1996 to play closer to his tiny hometown of Benton, Ky., he never imagined how dramatically that decision would affect his life. Toward the end of a disappointing sophomore season, during which he made dozens of late-night, 2�-hour drives to visit Emily at Murray State, Langhi learned that she was pregnant. "At first it was a confusing time for me, and I couldn't really concentrate on basketball," Langhi says, "but it made me grow up overnight and put more order in my life." He became both a father and a husband during his junior year, and the added responsibility and the discipline it required translated into a breakout season as he increased his scoring average from 6.3 points a game to 17.7.
This year began with a makeover of the Vanderbilt program that featured a renovation of Memorial Gym and the hiring of new coach Kevin Stallings, who came from Illinois State to replace Jan van Breda Kolff. The Commodores' roster remained very similar to that of the squad that finished 14-15 last season, however, so who could have anticipated three wins over ranked teams in 11 days?
On Jan. 5 Langhi went 6 of 9 from three-point range and scored 31 points in an 87-77 defeat of No. 6 Florida. One week later, Vanderbilt trailed by 13 in the second half on the home court of No. 12 Tennessee, and Langhi implored his teammates to feed him the ball. In finishing off another 31-point effort, he scored seven points during an 11-2 Commodores run that rallied Vanderbilt to a 76-73 upset victory. Finally, in last Saturday's win over No. 24 LSU, Langhi had only 12 points but so occupied the Tigers' defense that Commodores senior guard James Strong scored a career-high 22. "We're making a statement that we're not the same old Vanderbilt," said Strong of the Commodores' best start since 1978-79. "We're finally getting this program over the hump."
At 6'11" and 215 pounds, Langhi is a small forward in Stallings's motion offense. He can post up inside or create on the perimeter with the ball-handling skills he learned as a high school point guard. Through Sunday he led the SEC in scoring with 22.6 points per game while shooting 49.8% from the floor and 45.5% from beyond the arc. Langhi, a sage 22-year-old who has an agreement with Emily that he doesn't have to change dirty diapers on game days, is affectionately called Papa by his teammates. "He acts like a protective parent on the court," Stallings says. "Our other guys know Dan's always there to bail them out whenever they get in trouble."
NBA scouts like Langhi's height, mobility, shooting touch and especially his maturity, which make him a cinch for a promotion later this year. But he's more concerned with getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time since his freshman year. As his teammates fanned out to celebrate the win over LSU, Langhi went home, studied the game on videotape and ordered Chinese takeout. At 11:30 p.m. he hugged his baby and kissed his wife good night. It had been just another day at the office.
The Trojans Go To War
It was shortly before the start of USC's annual home game with UCLA on Jan. 12, and no one in the Trojans' locker room bothered to pretend that it was going to be just another game. New York Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, a USC alumnus who had been invited to give a pep talk, told the Trojans that a win would change their lives. USC coach Henry Bibby, who played point guard on three UCLA national championship teams, said he was wearing his best suit, so the players should also bring out their best Just before the Trojans took the floor, assistant coach David Miller, inspired by a headline in that day's Los Angeles Times proclaiming USC to be "second fiddle" in L.A., took out a fiddle and smashed it against a wall. "The UCLA guys walk around this city like they own it," said 6'9" forward-center Brian Scalabrine after the game. "We felt we had something to prove."
Prove it they did, snapping a 10-game losing streak to their crosstown nemeses with a 91-79 win. It was the Trojans' most lopsided victory over the Bruins in 14 years. More important, it improved USC's record to 3-0 in the Pac-10 (10-5 overall). The Trojans missed last year's NCAA tournament, after finishing the regular season 15-12, but USC's promising start could catapult it back to March Madness. "We haven't accomplished enough to start feeling complacent," Bibby says. "This is going to be a test to see if we can handle success."