Not one of the Commodores is a true All-America, unless his scoring continues to keep Hagan up among the national leaders. Tommy-gun, from Louisville, is a 6'3" guard who, with the left-handed Campbell, sets up the offense. Hagan's father, Red, was a star player at Kentucky before getting kicked off the squad for his habit of storing away game balls in his locker. But Tommy thought he would have a better chance to play at Vanderbilt. He has a great shock of dusty blond hair that flops all over his forehead when he runs down the court, and he looks like a kid out of a Walt Disney cornfield, sucking a blade of straw, herding the moo-cows at sunset. But Tommy-gun's shooting from way out there keeps Vandy alive.
At center is 6'5" Perry Wallace, a remarkable jumper and good defender whose task it is to go head to head against all those larger pivotmen. Wallace is a mediocre shooter and has a lot to learn, but he is there in the clutch. With the Davidson game tied and 90 seconds left in the overtime, he dominated the 6'9" Knowles on a crucial jump ball, enabling Vanderbilt to gain control for the last shot.
Wallace was graduated from Nashville's Pearl High School to become the first Negro to play in the SEC. There are, of course, a lot of "first" Negroes these days ( North Carolina, Davidson and Duke have theirs, also). Perry, an intensely proud, intelligent and articulate electrical engineering student, is distinguished among them because his role is certain to be the most difficult. In the second half of the season Vanderbilt plays in the deep, deep South, at Starkville and Oxford, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Athens, Ga.
Steadying Wallace and the backcourt are the senior forwards, co-captains Warren and Wyenandt. Conceding Hagan his 26-point average, the double-W boys are the heart of Vanderbilt's cool, calm precision play. Wyenandt is from Cincinnati and has been a starter for three years, while Warren, another Kentucky boy, has improved so rapidly in a year and five games that he has probably superseded his co-captain as the team's most complete player. Over the past season and through Saturday, while the two have been regulars with Hagan, Vanderbilt has won six of six overtime games, five of them on the road. Warren cools it, Wyenandt and Hagan shoot the winning baskets.
The team's poise and assurance is so habitual that a ridiculous faux pas late in the Davidson game—with Vanderbilt behind and in possession, Wyenandt dribbled in bounds instead of passing in, and the ball was given to Davidson—was thought by some Vandy fans to be merely a reversed decision by the official. The Commodores do not make many errors like that. Skinner is the man responsible. After a few years of medium success, he brought a Nashville boy, Clyde Lee, to school in 1962 and has been winning games and the hearts of the city's citizens ever since.
In the last three years, as the basketball Commodores have gone 67-13, Vanderbilt has had to add 4,000 balcony seats to its gym to accommodate the crowds. The place is sold out long before the season begins. "It would cost too much to add any more seats," says Skinner. "But we could fill them. We could fill them forever."
Skinner recruits heavily in Tennessee, Kentucky and the metropolitan areas of Cincinnati, St. Louis and Evansville, Ind. He has six children of his own, and he certainly must be murder in a prospect's living room, for he is plain, simple, "just folks," with a polite manner and sonorous southern bass voice that sounds suspiciously like Tex Ritter coaxing a dogie to come in off the range. Mothers love Roy Skinner, and any father would buy a used car—or a college education—from him.
At Vanderbilt a boy will get the education. For academic excellence the school comes close to being the finest in the South. It has 3,800 undergraduates on a small campus of considerable charm, and a basketball player can walk from his residence in Carmichael Towers to practice at the gym and to meals at Rand Hall in less than 11 minutes.
This daily ritual does not include study periods, which can hardly be disregarded by the Vandys, who are student-athletes in the truest sense. Warren, like Wallace, is in the challenging electrical engineering program. One substitute, Gene Lockyear, is a cinch for Phi Beta Kappa, and Campbell, a first-year law student (he was held out a year), made one of the highest entrance scores ever recorded at the Vanderbilt Law School.
On weekends campus social life revolves around parties at fraternity and sorority houses or trips downtown. There, just two miles away, is the heart of Nashville, where Hank Locklin and Norma Jean and Roy Acuff and Skeeter Davis and, shucks, just about everybody else, picks it up and taps it at the Grand Ole Opry. "Coach Skinner takes all the guys there when he recruits," says Warren, "but I doubt if any of us have been back."