Two new Vanderbilt basketball coaches bring pro experience—and their Indiana bona fides—to Memorial Gym
Bryce Drew authored one of the most iconic moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament and went on to play six years in the NBA. And yet Drew, a first-round pick of the Houston Rockets in 1998, may not be the most accomplished of Vanderbilt’s two new basketball coaches.
Stephanie White, hired in May to coach the Commodores women’s program, offers a résumé that few in the sport can match: In 1999 she was named National Player of the Year and led Purdue University to its only national championship in women’s basketball. She then played four seasons in the WNBA.
White envisions recruiting student-athletes similar to her as head coach at Vanderbilt.
“I was a high achiever,” says the West Lebanon, Indiana, native, who chose Purdue over Vanderbilt as a high school senior in the mid-’90s to pursue a degree in aviation. “I wanted to be the best athletically and academically. That was a mission of mine. Certain places just fit your personality, fit your style, fit the type of players you want to coach—and for me, Vanderbilt is that.”
Drew is best known for his buzzer-beating 3-pointer that lifted Valparaiso University to a stunning upset over Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament—just Google “Bryce Drew shot”—but since then he has carved out a reputation as one of the top young coaches in the nation. In five seasons as head coach at Valparaiso, he guided the Crusaders to a 124–49 record with four Horizon League championships. His teams also advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice and reached the championship game of the 2016 NIT.
“Bryce Drew did a terrific job at Valparaiso, and I think people forget this is a guy who is still fairly new to the coaching profession,” says ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman. “He is only 41 years old and has gone to the postseason every single year of his head coaching career. He’s certainly a great fit at Vanderbilt.”
During his tenure at Valpo, Drew always kept an eye on the situation at Vanderbilt, a school he admired from afar.
“I had played here once and coached here once,” says Drew, who lost games to Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym as a player in 1997 and as an assistant in 2007. “It’s a unique place where you can have some of the best academics in the country and yet play against some of the best teams in the country.”
Vanderbilt embarked on its first coaching search in 17 years after Kevin Stallings departed in April to become the head coach at Pittsburgh. The school hired Eddie Fogler, who coached the Commodores from 1989 to 1993, as a consultant to conduct the search. In addition to being a former coach at Vanderbilt, Fogler also is the parent of a former athlete: His son, Ben, BA’15, played on the Commodore golf team from 2011 to 2015.
“You could tell how much Coach Fogler loved Vanderbilt and loved living here and coaching here,” Drew says. “You could feel his passion.”
During Fogler’s final season, in 1992–93, Vanderbilt won the SEC regular-season championship and climbed as high as No. 5 in the Associated Press poll. Drew has his sights set on even loftier goals.
“I love the potential of Vanderbilt,” he says. “That is why I took the job. We want to get to the Final Four. We want to do some things this program hasn’t done before.”
White, like Drew, was monitoring the Vanderbilt coaching situation from the state of Indiana and became intrigued when Melanie Balcomb resigned as head coach of the women’s program after 14 seasons. But as head coach of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever—whose season stretches from May through early October (depending on postseason success)—White didn’t believe the timing would work out. She had made a commitment to the Fever’s management that she would remain with the organization through the end of the 2016 season.
“I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to get the job,” White says. “The timing just didn’t seem like it was going to work out.” Vanderbilt, however, was willing to wait for a coach who appears to be the ideal fit to return the program to national prominence.
“I could not be more excited about our new coach,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos says. “Her résumé is something Vanderbilt itself would write. … Her values, her principles, and her whole life’s work make her a perfect fit for Vanderbilt.”
White’s unique working arrangement is no doubt making her first summer as Vanderbilt’s head coach a challenge, but the program is in the capable hands of Carolyn Peck, BA’88, who starred for the Commodores in the late 1980s and later served as head coach at Purdue—where she coached White and won a national title—and at Florida. Peck is conducting most of the offseason workouts and overseeing the day-to-day operation of the program while White fulfills her obligations to the Fever in Indiana.
“I can’t think of anybody I’d rather have alongside me,” White says. “Carolyn has a passion for Vanderbilt University, and she and I have a great relationship. I will be communicating with her every day. She will understand the goals that we have [for the program]. Our language is very similar because we have worked together before.”
Peck, a 2013 inductee into the Vanderbilt Hall of Fame, had been working in television since finishing a five-year run at Florida in 2007. It didn’t take her long to agree to join White’s staff.
“She didn’t even get the question out before I was like, ‘Yes,’” Peck says. “I know Stephanie well, and there isn’t anybody better for me to take this journey with. She is a winner, and I knew that from day one when she was playing for me at Purdue. I am so excited to work with her at Vanderbilt.”
With Peck and former Duke star Joy Cheek as her top two assistants, White has assembled a star-studded coaching staff that has strong ties to both the collegiate game and the WNBA.
“Having that WNBA experience will help,” White says. “If you are a recruit and you can come play for a national championship coach and a WNBA champion as a player and coach, it would be very attractive if you eventually want to play professionally. Playing professionally is a realistic option now.”
The new men’s staff includes three former NBA players: Drew, Casey Shaw and Roger Powell. Shaw, who is Drew’s brother-in-law, and Powell each played one season in the NBA before enjoying productive careers overseas.
“We are all former players,” Drew says. “When we talk to recruits and sell our vision at Vanderbilt, we can tell them we have gotten to where they want to go. Our stories will be easy to tell.”
Vanderbilt’s two new head coaches have been well-received among Commodore supporters.
“I believe the school did a great job identifying two coaches who will be very successful at Vanderbilt,” says J.R. Hand, BS’03. “Bryce Drew is extremely personable and will really connect with the fan base. Stephanie White has an impressive track record. There is no doubt she will return Vanderbilt women’s basketball to national prominence.” Hand and his wife, Kailey, BS’03, MEd’05, have been key contributors to Vanderbilt’s basketball and other athletic programs.
Drew and White didn’t meet until shortly after White’s introductory press conference, but the two natives of the Hoosier State were very familiar with each other. Drew was named “Mr. Basketball” in Indiana in 1994 at Valparaiso High School. The following year White was “Ms. Basketball” as a senior at West Lebanon High School.
“I’ve watched Bryce and followed his career,” White says. “When he got the job, I was so excited for him. In Indiana, all we do is eat, sleep and play basketball. We both get to bring that mindset and passion to Vanderbilt.”