Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli and John Jenkins will return to Vanderbilt for the 2011-12 men’s basketball season, the school announced on Wednesday.
The three players had entertained the idea of leaving college early and declaring for the upcoming NBA Draft in June. Instead, they will be back and Vanderbilt will return its entire starting five.
The Commodores went 23-11 this past season but were bounced out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight time.
With that trio back and three incoming freshmen on the way, the Commodores could be primed for a big run — some early preseason national polls have them ranked as high as fifth in the country.
“Obviously, we are very excited that those three guys have all decided to return to our program next season,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said in a statement. “All three carefully, thoughtfully, and diligently acquired information, with my help, about their draft status for the upcoming NBA Draft. After receiving the information, all three decided individually that it was their desire to return to Vanderbilt.
“I commend and applaud them for the intelligent and diligent way they approached this process in making their decision. Their return certainly positions our team for an exciting season next year.”
The 6-foot-7 Taylor, a rising senior, has started all 97 games in his career and averaged 14.4 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. He has been named to the All-SEC second team and defensive team the last two years. But he has disappeared at times — most notably during Vanderbilt’s NCAA Tournament loss to Richmond. Taylor, who was born in Sweden, scored just four points and was 1-of-10 from the field.
“While playing in the NBA is a dream of mine, I feel like Vanderbilt is the best place for me right now,” Taylor said. “As a team, we have unfinished business on the court."
The 6-foot-11, 255-pound Ezeli, who will be a senior, was arguably Vanderbilt’s most improved player. He went from the backup to A.J. Ogilvy, who left school and made himself eligible for the draft with one year of eligibility remaining, in 2009-10 to a force down low in Southeastern Conference play. The native of Nigeria started in all 34 games and averaged 13.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks and was named to the All-SEC second team.
“There is no rush for me to leave,” Ezeli said. “I want to play here with these guys. I enjoy playing for coach Stallings and this staff, and I look forward to earning my degree.”
Jenkins, a nearby product of Station Camp, led the SEC in scoring as a sophomore with 19.5 points a game. He improved his overall offensive game but was still known mainly as a deep-range threat, making 3.1 3-pointers a game — a league-high. He was selected as a unanimous choice for the All-SEC first team.
Another year could allow him to shore up his defensive play and improve his draft stock.
“I’m not too happy with the way the season ended in March,” Jenkins said. “I think we all have a sour taste in our mouths from that experience in Denver [in the NCAA Tournament]. I love playing here. I want to get my education first, and I look forward to being a part of a great team next year.”