Even though the Commodores lost, it has still been a great year to be a Vanderbilt basketball fan. Through Sunday the women were 17-1, and the 12th-ranked men were 16-3, including a victory on Jan. 13 over then No. 1 Kentucky. Foster, a Philadelphia native, and men's coach Eddie Fogler, who was born in Brooklyn, have raised the Commodores' basketball profile higher than it has been in years.
Foster and Fogler, who often watch game tapes together and exchange ideas, set the tone for a close relationship between their teams. The Vanderbilt men hurried back to Nashville from their 73-70 win at Auburn Saturday afternoon to be on hand for the women's game. "At a lot of schools men's and women's teams go their own ways," says Commodore guard Billy McCaffrey, a transfer from Duke. "Here that's not the case, because of a lot of mutual respect."
Shooting is the strength of the women's team. At week's end they led the SEC in three-point shooting, and Gillingham, a junior, was shooting 66%. The 6'10" Gillingham, whose younger sister, Gwendolyn, is a 6'7" center for North Carolina and whose older sister, Heather, is six-feet tall and a former high-fashion model, moves with uncommon grace for someone so tall. She had seven blocked shots, 14 points and nine rebounds against Tennessee, not bad for someone who wasn't always crazy about basketball. "In my freshman year I just wanted—who was the guy who invented basketball, Naismith?—to wring Naismith's neck for even making a sport where people would expect me to excel," Gillingham says.
But she has excelled. Gillingham set the SEC record with 87 blocked shots as a freshman, added 131 as a sophomore and had 62 so far this season. "Heidi has tremendously high standards," Foster says. "She asks a great deal of herself."
Foster, too, has high standards. Before coming to Vanderbilt last season, he coached the women's team at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia for 13 years. It was there that he became friends with the coaches and players from the area, including former 76er players Barkley, Maurice Cheeks and Julius Erving and ex-Sixer coach Chuck Daly. Foster has stayed in touch with them, sometimes calling on them to be guests on his weekly radio show. He also instructs his players to use NBA players as models, having Gillingham study Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's post-up moves or Blades practice John Stockton's change of direction.
Foster looks everywhere for new ideas. He carried Vanderbilt football coach Gerry DiNardo's headset cords on the sideline last fall in hopes, he says, of "learning how those people communicate under stress. I wanted to see if there was anything I could apply to my coaching."
In part, Foster says, because he has a retarded brother and sister, he is impatient with people who don't make the most of their talents. He's also impatient with the pace of the growth of women's basketball. "This does not have to be a one-time phenomenon," he said of the fervor surrounding last week's game. "This can be a common occurrence."
In other news from Nashville: Five days before Vanderbilt and Tennessee met there, Memorial Gym was the site of another game between high-ranked teams from Tennessee. David Lipscomb, No. 5 in Division I of the NAIA, beat sixth-ranked Belmont 100-72.
The two schools arc less than two miles apart on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville, and each has a claim to fame. Lipscomb's is 6'6" junior center John Pierce, who at week's end led the NAIA in scoring (33.0 points a game) and field goal percentage (69.6). He had 36 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists against Belmont. There is something of a history of high-scoring centers at Lipscomb. Before Pierce arrived, the center was Philip Hutcheson, college basketball's alltime leading scorer, who had 4,106 points in his career, from 1986 to 1990.