With the departure of Richard Howell and CJ Leslie, NC State is left with huge shoes to fill in the paint this season. The question is, who will fill them?
This offseason, NC State signed 4-star big man Beejay Anya. Many believed it would be he who stepped in at center and started for the Wolfpack. Just one problem. Anya showed up to Raleigh a little out of shape and so far hasn’t earned enough confidence from the coaches in his ability to produce at an ACC level. So where does NC State go from here?
Jordan Vandenberg was a 7’0 project player signed by Sidney Lowe in the class of 2009. Nobody expected much from Vandy when he arrived on campus that season, but it all changed with one dunk.
(skip to the 37 second mark)
With that slam, NC State fans started wondering if they had maybe found something. That season Vandenberg played well as a backup to State center Tracy Smith. He gave the fans a taste of what he was capable of when he dominated the defensive paint against Arizona on Dec. 23rd of that year. With Smith suspended, Vandy went for 11 boards and altered shot after shot. It could have become the beginning of a great career. Instead it became just a blip on the radar. Smith returned soon after and Vandenberg never saw significant time again.
The next season Jordan would play the first quarter of the season as a key reserve, logging significant minutes in 7 of the first 10 games. But with nearly as many fouls as rebounds during that span, he quickly fell out of favor with the coaches and was relegated to bench duty.
At the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, and under a new coaching staff, there was a sense that Jordan’s opportunity may have passed. State had tons of high-level front court talent and he had shown up to camp a little out of shape. He wasn’t moving well on defense, he was confused about his role in the new fast paced offensive and it seemed like his confidence was shot. After Gottfried tried him out in the first 5 games of the season, they discovered that he was dealing with a shoulder injury and decided to give him a medical redshirt.
With a year of redshirting, State hoped that Vandenberg could improve in a lot of areas. They needed him to be active and physical on defense without fouling. They needed him to be able to run the court, and they needed him to do this against bigger, more talented opponents.
That never happened.
Vandy once again showed up out of shape and there were rumbling that he wasn’t taking basketball as serious as he once did. It showed. Although he didn’t get many chances, when he did it seemed disastrous. Jordan seemed nervous, lost, and without confidence in himself. He finished the season averaging 5 minutes per game, .7 points and .7 rebounds per game. This could have been the final chapter for the Aussie’s career….but it wasn’t.
With a majority of their talent gone, State fans began focusing on the future. A talented freshman class, stacked with front court talent, all the media hype was around Anya, Washington and Freeman. Forgotten was the lone senior on the roster, Jordan Vandenberg. But that didn’t stop him this offseason. He worked and worked to get back into playing shape, knowing that if he couldn’t run the court then he would become obsolete.
This offseason Jordan shed over 40 pounds and worked to acclimate himself to the running style that Gottfried has implemented. On Friday he had his coming out party. A quicker, faster, more confident Vandenberg dominated the paint at the Wolfpack’s ‘Primetime with the Pack’ season opening scrimmage. He was dunking, playing physical inside and ruling the boards. He finished 6 of 9 with 12 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes of play. As funny as it sounds, Vandy was the perfect compliment to Tyler Lewis. Lewis continuously pushed the tempo up the floor and each time it was Vandenberg running right with him. He’s obviously in better shape and might be making as case to be NC State’s starting center this year.
(In case you missed this vid from yesterday, check it out! Lots of Vandy highlights.)
It’s been a long, bumpy roller coaster ride for Vandenberg, but it might just end up having a happy ending. If he can stay out of foul trouble, focus on keeping up with State’s point guards, and really get physical on the boards, Jordan Vandenberg might finally be that finished project Wolfpack fans were hoping for.