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Tinsley, Vandy have been a great fit

Former Oregon City star helps lead Commodores into NCAA Tournament
by: KEVIN C. COX Vanderbilt's starting point guard, Brad Tinsley from Oregon City, slashes through the Mississippi State defense in last weekend's SEC tournament.

March Madness starts Thursday, and most fans in the area will cast a watchful eye toward Kentucky's Terrence Jones and Duke's Kyle Singler as local high school products who have made an impact on the national college basketball scene.

        The true prep aficionado of the state, though, has a guy who has flown a bit under the radar on his list - Vanderbilt's Brad Tinsley.

        The 6-3, 210-pound junior will be starting at point guard as the fifth-seeded Commodores (23-10) face 12th seed Richmond (27-7) Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Denver.

        The Oregon City native is in his third season as a starter for coach Kevin Stallings but his first at the point.

        For Tinsley - a point guard during his years with Mike Doherty's star-oriented system at Oregon City - it's been a good fit.

        Tinsley has averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 32.3 minutes. Tinsley led the Southeastern Conference in assists, and his assist/turnover ratio 2.4 was second-best in the league. He was sixth in free-throw percentage (.824) and 14th in 3-point percentage (.364).

        In a 68-66 loss at Kentucky on March 1, Tinsley had nine points, nine assists and no turnovers.

         'He was really good,' Stallings told the media after the game. 'To go up there, in that environment (and do that) is a great effort.

        'Brad has been playing really well for us. Hopefully that will continue. He has been really locked in and doing the things he needs to do to help us win.'

        It's been a lot of fun for Brad and his parents, Carl and Kathy, who have taken up residence in Nashville during each of their son's three seasons.

        'We drive out the first part of November, get an apartment and stay here the whole season,' says Carl, the former Oregon City High girls coach. 'We haven't missed a game. We drive to every SEC game - the longest trip is 9 1/2 hours. We've been to Maui, Australia ... it's been a blast.

         'Nashville's a lot like Portland. It's about the same size, has the same kind of feel to it. I could live in Nashville. It's a nice city, with a lot going on. Horrible Chinese food, though.'

        Shaky Asian cuisine or not, Nashville has been a great home for Brad, who has enjoyed the transition from shooting guard to the point this season.

        'It's been awesome going back to the position I'm used to,' he says. 'It's nice to be back to that spot, facilitating the offense.'

        At Oregon City, Tinsley was a scoring point, averaging 25.7 points as the state's Class 6A olayer of the year as a senior in 2008 while leading the Pioneers to the state championship game. He is the state's all-time leading large-classification career scorer not named Kevin Love.

        I watched Tinsley play several times as a prep and wondered how he would fare as a major-college player. Not blessed with a great deal of quickness, I figured he would have to be a shooting guard. This season, his court savvy has paid off.

        'I'm not your stereotypical college point guard - a small, quick player,' he says. 'Even though I lack some of that stuff, I make up for it with my strength and by knowing how to play. You have to be intelligent when you're not lightning quick. You have to be able to know when to use your body and when to make the plays at the right time.'

        Taking over for departed senior Jermaine Beal, Tinsley started with a bang, going for 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a season-opening victory over Presbyterian. It was the first triple-double in Vanderbilt history, and Stallings awarded him the game ball.

        'Brad's performance was maybe as good as we've ever had here,' said Stallings, in his 12th year as Vanderbilt coach. 'It's the first time I have ever given a player a game ball in 18 years' as a college head coach.

        'That was pretty cool,' Tinsley says. 'It was a big-time shocker that I was the first one to do that in school history, because we've had so many great players through the years.'

        All season, opponents have tried to take advantage of Tinsley's defense at the point, but he has more than held his own.

        'Brad is not the typical point guard in the SEC,' backcourt mate John Jenkins says. 'He may not be the fastest or the quickest, but he gets the job done. There are a lot of things people might have doubts about with him, but no one on our team doubts him at all.'

        The Commodores are big and talented, with 6-11, 265-pound junior Festus Ezeli in the middle and starters at 6-8, 6-7, 6-4 and 6-3 around him.

         'It's a dynamic mix,' Tinsley says. 'We have a lot of guys who can play the 2, the 3, the 4. We create match-up problems for opponents.'

        Ezeli came to Yuba City, Calif., from his native Nigeria at age 14 and played his first basketball at 15. He started at Vanderbilt as a scrub, redshirted as a freshman but is coming into his own this season, averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocked shots and ranking second in the SEC with a .579 shooting percentage.

        'He's one of the most improved players in the nation, if not the most improved,' Tinsley says. 'He's still kind of a puppy in the basketball world, learning things, but he's a monster at the defensive end and he has improved on offense, too. We wouldn't be where we are without him.'

        Jenkins, who led the SEC with a 19.5-point average, 'is one of the best shooters I've ever seen at any level,' Tinsley says. 'He has gotten a lot better at creating for himself. He is much more a complete offensive player than he was in the past.'

        As a fourth seed a year ago, Vanderbilt flamed out in the tournament, falling to 13th-seed Murray State in the first round.

        'We talked about that all through the offseason,' Tinsley says. 'We remember how it felt. It's provided a lot of extra motivation. We don't want it to end like it did last year.'

        The Commodores are heavy favorites over Richmond after going 9-7 and placing third in the SEC's East Division. Five teams from the SEC East - Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee - made the Big Dance.

        'But we can't overlook anybody,' Tinsley says. 'Richmond's a great team. The Atlantic 10 is a pretty good league. It's going to be a tough game. We know we'll be in a 40-minute fight.'

        Stallings' teams have won 20 or more games in six of the last eight seasons, and have twice reached the Sweet 16 - in 2004 and '07. If the Commodores get there again, Tinsley will be in the thick of it.