Dai-Jon Parker will have to play hurt on Monday. He will play, though.
The Vanderbilt shooting guard is dinged up due to a hip injury sustained in practice last week. He makes his season debut against Cornell (8 p.m., ESPNU) after serving a 10-game suspension, including two exhibition games, for a violation of non-academic team rules.
His addition should bolster the Commodores' perimeter depth and provide a respite for heavily used guards Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller. But coach Kevin Stallings also offered a reality check.
“We shouldn’t expect too much too quickly because he hasn’t played the game,” Stallings said. “So we need to let him get that rust off him for having sat out these 10 and be patient with them. But we’re excited he is going to be back.”
Parker played in all 36 contests last season and averaged 11.1 minutes off the bench in Stallings’ nine-player rotation. His strength is on defense, especially on the perimeter as an on-the-ball defender. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder also shot 31 percent (11 of 44) from 3-point range.
The timing of his return is ideal. The Commodores (4-4) have won consecutive games for the first time this season. His defensive presence will be a welcome sight when Vanderbilt plays in-state rival Middle Tennessee State on Friday at Bridgestone Arena.
Stallings planned on Parker being in his starting five before the season. At this point, he intends to “immediately integrate” him into the lineup. Parker could play as many as 20 minutes against Cornell (4-5), which hasn’t played since Dec. 1.
His return gives Stallings nine players to tinker with in his rotation and allow for more breaks for his top two scorers.
Johnson (37.1 minutes per game) and Fuller (36.1) leads the Southeastern Conference in minutes played. Thirty-three minutes from Johnson and 30 for Fuller were season-lows for both in a 71-46 blowout of Alabama A&M on Saturday.
Johnson, who scored 19 points against Alabama A&M, leads the team at 17.3 points a game. Even with Parker back on the floor, Stallings hesitates to pull Johnson off the court. But he said his point guard will be able to get a four-minute break each half.
“It will allow me to hold those two a little bit more accountable,” Stallings said of Johnson and Fuller. “Not they haven’t been doing a good job and trying hard because they have. But now I can hold their feet to their fire a little bit more. If they’re not doing it, now we’ve got a third guy who has the ability to do it. I think it brings a lot of things into focus for the team that are very valuable. We don’t need those guys leading the league in minutes played.”