Vanderbilt University basketball can now be added to the long list of Nashville history. The story of this historical college basketball program is told in a new book by local Nashville author, Bill Traughber. “Vanderbilt Basketball: Tales of Commodore Hardwood History” takes you through the first organized game all the way to the success of the 21st century.
Traughber opens up eyes to the basketball history Vanderbilt made nationwide at the beginning of sport’s existence in 1893 when they played a game against the Nashville YMCA.
“Vanderbilt was the first college with an organized team to play an organized game and I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” Traughber said. “Geneva College (Pa.), they had claimed to have been the first college to play an organized game. And they had played against their local YMCA team. So I looked it up, Vanderbilt had played their game one month earlier.”
Traughber used his thorough research to find newspaper articles dating back to the first game in 1893 and clippings from the Nashville Banner from games in the 1920s. But Traughber says the old photographs are what really tell the stories about how the game of basketball has changed.
“I can tell you stories about them playing but you cannot imagine what basketball was like in the early part of the 20th century, especially the uniforms, the style of play and the rules,” Traughber said. “When you compare a photograph now and it’s just amazing how the game has changed and you have a better perception of how tough it was back in those days.”
Back in those days almost everything was different. Traughber takes you through many milestones like the first women’s game, Vanderbilt’s first basketball scholarship, train rides to road games, and the Southeastern Conference’s first African-American player. Men and the media were not allowed to attend womens games at the time, but one writer got in to document the first Vanderbilt women’s game.
“The writer, who was a male, snuck into the Old Gym,” Traughber said. “The female teachers were at the doorways and they were not letting anyone, other than women, in to see that. It wasn’t just Vanderbilt, it was womens games at that time, and it was other schools too.”
Vanderbilt, in the mid 1900s, wasn’t finding the success it was wanting on the basketball court. At that time, usually an assistant football coach acted as the head basketball coach and that was not getting the job done.
“Then Vanderbilt played that game where they got clobbered by Kentucky in 1947 that was the wake up call,” Traughber said. “I think it really changed in the modern era when Bob Polk was selected as their first full time coach. Red Sanders, who was the football coach and athletic director, decided that we can’t be humiliated like this anymore so they searched and got a new coach. I had found in my research that John Wooden of UCLA was one of the applicants.”
After Polk took over as head coach, the program took off and was one of the most successful SEC squads for decades to come. Traughber says his favorite Vanderbilt basketball times, as a fan, came during the late 1980s with the trio of Barry Goheen, Barry Booker and Will Perdue.
“I think that those times, Will Perdue and his “Perdunks” were some of the most exciting times in Vanderbilt history,” Traughber said.
This is the fourth book in three years Traughber has published. His other books are “Nashville Sports History: Stories from the Stands” (2010), “Brentwood Academy Football: From a Cow Pasture to a Tradition” (2010) and “Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History” (2010).
I think I’m going to take a little time off,” Traughber said. “I would like to write a book on Nashville baseball history. I’ve got a lot of stories to put in book format and have access to a lot of old photographs. I would like to do that as my next project.”