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How Vanderbilt basketball assembled one of the best recruiting classes in the country

Bryce Drew landed another five-star recruit Wednesday, and the Commodores are making history.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Northwestern vs Vanderbilt Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt has always been a steady, if unspectacular, presence on the hardwood. Kevin Stallings’ 17 seasons in Nashville brought a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances and seven NCAA Tournament invitations as the Commodores developed into an inconsistent blip on the national radar.

With Bryce Drew at the helm, however, Vandy is building up the firepower to glow like a foglight in 2018 and beyond.

Drew landed his second five-star commitment in as many weeks Wednesday when 6’9 power forward Simi Shittu picked the ‘Dores. The Vermont Academy standout made his decision public with a post in the Players’ Tribune.

So how is Bryce Drew doing this?

As with any success, Drew’s major upswing at Vandy is mostly the result of hard work, with a little assist from luck. His first five-star signing of the season came from Brentwood (TN) Academy point guard Darrius Garland. Not only was the lightning-fast distributor close to Nashville, but he also had ties to Drew after spending his early life in Gary, Indiana — not far from Drew’s old stomping grounds at Valparaiso University.

Garland had attended Drew’s basketball camps growing up, establishing an early bond between the two that helped lure the top-15 prospect to Nashville despite overtures from nearly every powerhouse program in the NCAA. With one five-star recruit in tow, Vanderbilt became a much easier sell for other elite high schoolers.

That may have helped swing Shittu, but the Vermont big man appeared to be leaning toward the Commodores even before Garland signed his letter of intent. The top-10 prospect had narrowed his list of programs down to North Carolina, Arizona, and Vandy earlier this summer. When he canceled his official visits to Tuscon (in early October) Chapel Hill (early November), it became clear — albeit not certain — Drew was his guy.

The commitments of Garland and Shittu also overshadow another player who would have been the program’s top commit in several other seasons. Four-star wing Aaron Nesmith will have the chance to thrive as a slashing forward from the wing — especially with two blue chip recruits earning the defensive focus of opponents’ game plans.

What’s next for the Commodores?

Bryce Drew may not be done landing five-star talent. Shooting guard Romeo Langford, listed as the nation’s No. 5 recruit by 247Sports’ consensus rankings, has the ‘Dores in his top three schools. While he isn’t expected to name a destination soon, he’s got a connection with Garland — the two both have Indiana roots, with Garland from Gary and Langford from New Albany. The pair took an official visit to IU together and reportedly got along famously, leading Crimson Quarry to start shipping the pair as the Hoosiers’ backcourt of the future.

They won’t play together in Bloomington, but they might in Nashville. Bringing Langford into the fold would boost what’s already the greatest class in Vanderbilt history and set expectations higher than ever for Drew’s Commodores. Vandy may be off to a rough start after losing at Belmont and then blowing an opportunity for a top-10 upset over USC at home, but the program’s 2018 looks brighter than ever.