Whatever optimism there was at Vanderbilt entering the 2013-14 basketball season vanished in mere hours Monday afternoon.
The Commodores lost two of their best players, taking a potential NCAA tournament team and reducing it to one that will have to overachieve to avoid a bottom-four SEC finish.
The first bombshell was the departure of starting wing Kevin Bright, Vanderbilt's leading rebounder a year ago and one of its best players by the end of the season. The Germany native has signed a contract to play with a professional team in Frankfurt, so he can be near his ailing mother in Mannheim.
That loss hurts Vanderbilt but it's not nearly as crippling as the Commodores' second blockbuster announcement of the day. Point guard Kedren Johnson, Vanderbilt's leading scorer and best player last season, has been dismissed from the university for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, though a letter he wrote to Commodores fans suggests he will have the chance to return to the program in a year's time.
"I have been suspended as a student from Vanderbilt University for one year for a mistake I made, the result of using some very poor judgement," Johnson wrote. "That also means I will not be on the basketball team this upcoming season.
"It hurts me when I realize the consequences of my action, which happened near the end of the last school year. It was a violation of the good conduct expected of all Vanderbilt students. I take full responsibility and now must begin working to regain the trust and respect of my school, the student body, our fans and especially my coaches and friends on the team."
The absence of Johnson and the departures of Bright and transfer Sheldon Jeter dims the hopes Vanderbilt's rebuilding process would require only one year.
A Commodores team hurt by the graduation of current pros John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli went 16-17 last season and finished last in the SEC in scoring, but by the end of the season there was optimism that the team's young nucleus had a bright future. Now much of that nucleus is gone, likely placing too great a strain on junior forward Rod Odom and sophomore guard Kyle Fuller unless other scorers emerge.
Best-case scenario for Vanderbilt, the program staggers through another rebuilding year but Odom and Fuller continue to develop and form one of the SEC's top trios along with Johnson when he returns the following year. Worst-case scenario for Vanderbilt, Johnson is unable to rejoin the program after next season, Odom and Fuller struggle with the burden of increased responsibility and the golden years of the Kevin Stallings era in Nashville are already behind him.
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