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Champs greeted home by large crowd

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March 12, 2012

Posted ImageWelcome Home Celebration | Vanderbilt Wins SEC Titls | VU Earns No. 5 Seed

Posted ImageStallings NCAA Tournament Presser | Posted ImagePlayers NCAA Tournament Presser

It had been 61 years since Vanderbilt last won an SEC Tournament title in men's basketball before Sunday's triumph over No. 1 Kentucky, and the Commodore Nation made sure to let the team know just how special of a day it was for Commodores everywhere.

More than 500 fans, including some standing on all levels of the Kensington Garage parking ramp and ramps outside Memorial Gym, crammed into the space outside the team entrance on the northwest side of the gym to greet the team as it returned home from New Orleans.

After receiving a police escort from Nashville International Airport, the Commodores' team bus arrived back on campus at 8:40 p.m. CT on Sunday night. The first person off the bus was Vanderbilt senior forward Lance Goulbourne, who thrust the SEC Tournament trophy into the air immediately after stepping onto the pavement.

"It feels pretty great just the fact that we have all the support of everyone around here in Nashville," Goulbourne said. "They've been waiting for this just like we have, and to bring a championship back home to them is really special for us and we want to continue to have their support and we appreciate it greatly."

After emptying off of the bus, the players, coaches and members of the support staff made their way, single-file, through the swarm of gold shakers, a barrage of blinding flashbulbs and raucous cheers from the fans.

"It was probably one of the most fun times I've ever had," senior guard Brad Tinsley said. "Just seeing all those people out there waiting at night when they could have been doing a lot of other things; coming out and supporting us and just showing their thanks and their support towards us just really means a lot to us."

The fan base has experienced a roller coaster ride of peaks and valleys with Vanderbilt's basketball program in recent years. There have been periods of jubilation when the Commodores have looked unbeatable, and times of disappointment with losses to underwhelming opponents. The up and down play is enough to make even the most optimistic fan curse and yell at the TV, but through it all Vanderbilt's fans have stuck with the Commodores.

Posted Image Each of the last five years, Vanderbilt's season tickets have been sold out. In that time, the fans have witnessed some of the most remarkable games and individual performances in school history. But each year, the season has abruptly ended, leaving fans with an empty pit in their stomachs.

No one knows how the 2012 season will end, but on Sunday, the Commodores cleared a hurdle many pundits did not think they could. Finally after years of disappointment, Vanderbilt fans had something to brag about in postseason play and they weren't about to let the moment pass them by.

Where the win ranks among the best in school history can be debated for years to come, but there have been few, if any, that have been bigger for Head Coach Kevin Stallings.

"This is one of my happiest days as a Vanderbilt coach, maybe my happiest," Stallings said. "I've had some happy ones and ... this certainly is right up there."

It was obvious from the emotional pictures of him on the bench after the game that Sunday meant a lot to Stallings. No one outside himself and maybe his immediate family will ever know just how much, but his actions spoke loudly. He has experienced the same ups and downs as everyone else following the program, but no one has felt a more piercing pain from the losses then he has.

On Sunday night at the team's NCAA Tournament selection press conference, Stallings again was nearly overcome by emotion as he recalled his feelings after the game.

"You know again [Stallings pauses to compose himself] ... when you invest a lot, you care a lot and I think what I'm most proud of is the investment that has occurred by this group of young men in our program," an emotional Stallings said. "To see those guys experience what they experienced today, that was a great feeling for me."

It was a feeling Stallings didn't want to have come to an end. After answering questions from the media for 17 minutes - an inordinately long amount of time - Vanderbilt assistant communications director Andy Boggs asked the media for one final question, so Stallings could move on with the rest of his night. But Stallings wasn't ready to leave this moment.

"We in a hurry?" Stallings quipped.

The answer was no. No one, especially Stallings, was was in a hurry this night. He would answer questions for the next five minutes before finally, much to his chagrin, there were no more questions to be asked. If there were, he'd probably still be answering them at this hour.

Reality of the NCAA Tournament will set in Monday. The team will leave for Albuquerque on Tuesday and Stallings and the team know they have a lot of work in front of them before playing Harvard on Thursday, but this was a day to enjoy.

It was a day for the players, the coaches and especially the fans to enjoy.

And it was a day no one wanted to see come to an end.

Even after all of the Commodores had made their way through the masses and into the quiet confines of Memorial Gym, the fans were not ready to leave. It had been too long since they were last able to celebrate a basketball win like this.

With the crowd still gathered and cheering for the Commodores, the team appeared again outside of the team entrance for a curtain call.

It was Vanderbilt's day, and the fans weren't about to let it end even hours after the sun had set on the first day of daylight saving time.

"Just for everybody to be out there waiting for us and supporting us is a great felling and we want to have that feeling again," Goulbourne said. "We want them to be waiting out there again."

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