Shelby Moats gladly will turn, put his back to the basket and post up some of the Southeastern Conference’s best big men.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings says that won’t be necessary. He just needs his power forward to stay on the floor.
As the Commodores continue workouts in advance of their season opener against Nicholls State on Nov. 10, Moats works toward growing in his new role — center.
The hope is the position is just temporary for the undersized Moats, listed at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds. But it is a role he embraces while the Commodores wait the return of their tallest player, Josh Henderson. The 6-foot-11 center isn’t expected to practice until mid-November. Henderson re-aggravated his surgically repaired (twice over) left foot. He ran (pain-free) for the first time last Wednesday.
“I don’t think because you assume a position that all of a sudden you become a back-to-the-basket or face-up” presence," Stallings said. “Shelby is Shelby. We will try to utilize his strengths as best we can. Hopefully Shelby can put some stress on the opposing team’s big guys who have to guard him. But some of that stress may come on the form of being on the perimeter.
“Shelby is not — nor has he ever been — a guy that’s been a big back-to-the-basket guy. So we’ll continue to play Shelby the way Shelby plays best and try to make it difficult for the other people to cover him.”
What Moats excels at is uncertain to Vanderbilt fans.
The 20-year-old played in just 16 games as a freshman. Averaging just 4.1 minutes primarily in mop-up duty, he served as a “screener,” for other options on offense and scored just eight points. When he did shoot, though, he preferred to step outside. Eleven of his 13 shots were from 3-point range.
“He has the ability to force some big guys away from the basket, which will help us on offense,” junior forward Rod Odom said.
Moats spent his last three years at Waconia (Minn.) High School at power forward and averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds while earning all-state accolades as a senior.
“I haven’t been really back-to-the-basket since my sophomore year in high school, which is going to be a bit different,” Moats said. “But I think it is going to present a problem for the other [centers] in the league just because they are used to guarding that more often. ... I’m not nervous at all. I’m just going to play physical and play tough like I know how to play.”
That philosophy spills over into defense, too.
Crediting an intense workout regimen in the weight room this offseason, Moats believes he can stand up to larger, physically imposing opponents.
His coach backs him up.
“He is a strong, physical kid so I don’t worry about him defending low-post guys,” Stallings said. “The one thing you know with Shelby is you’re going to get a day’s work for a day’s pay. He’s going to show up to work every day and give you the best he’s got. If that’s good enough, that’s good enough. And if it not’s good enough, it’s not good enough. But the next day he’s going to come back and give you the best he’s got. I think he’ll be a good tone-setter for our team in that way.”
• Preseason predictions: Seven months after it won the SEC tournament, Vanderbilt's men's basketball team was picked to finish 10th in 2012-13, according to a vote of regional and national media. The Commodores were tabbed to finish ahead of LSU, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State.
No starters return from the team that went 25-11 last season and the current roster has no seniors.
Kentucky was the choice to repeat as regular-season champion. Florida was picked second, followed by SEC newcomer Missouri and Tennessee.
Two Volunteers earned preseason all-conference honors. Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes was named to the first team and senior Jeronne Maymon was selected to the second team.
Missouri guard Phil Pressey was picked as the Player of the Year.