NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Scotty Pippen Jr. gets a personalized critique after each game from people who know him and basketball very well.
Yes, Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse and his assistants detail the sophomore guard’s performance.
Then there’s the postgame calls from dad, six-time NBA champ and Bulls legend Scottie Pippen who was voted one of the league’s 50 greatest players.
“Coach Stack tells me what the team needs, making sure everyone gets the ball,” Pippen Jr. said. “But my dad, he tells me little things like, ‘Running up and down the court you don’t look like you’re in shape.’ ... So I get critique on both ends. I’m used to it now.”
All the advice is working.
Pippen Jr. ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring, averaging 20.6 points and 5.3 assists per game. He’s one of only four players in the country averaging more than 20 points and five assists a game, and Minnesota’s Marcus Carr is the only other player doing that in a Power Five league.
Not bad for a guard whose recruiting list was mid-majors near his Los Angeles home. Washington State was the only Power Five school interested until Vanderbilt came looking for a point guard.
Pippen Jr. liked the academics at the SEC’s only private university, so much that not even the firing of coach Bryce Drew and assistant Jake Diebler changed his mind. The hiring of Stackhouse and his father’s opinion of the 18-year NBA veteran helped too.
“My dad and coach Stack were cool, so he just thought it’d be a great fit,” Pippen Jr. said. “He thought coach Stack would get me right. And just based off the phone calls with Coach, he just told me if I wanted to get better, this was the spot to be. He’s going to be on me and push me, and I just trusted him.”
Stackhouse threw the freshman guard onto the court at a program that didn’t win a single SEC game the season before.
Pippen Jr. started 31 games and averaged 12 points and 3.6 assists playing 29.8 minutes a game. He finished Vanderbilt’s 11-21 season scoring in double figures the final six games and was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team.
“He gave me time to make mistakes,” Pippen Jr. said. “He gave me time to learn and grow on the court so coming back this year I had a lot of confidence, I had a lot more experience than I did my freshman year. So I feel like that all played a part.”
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Pippen’s improvement is impressive.
“He’s responsible for about half of their points in production offensively,” Barnes said. “And I love his demeanor that he plays with. And he is a guy that went in last year and had to learn on the job. He had to stay out there, they needed him on the court.”
Pippen Jr. and Vanderbilt played the final game of the SEC Tournament last March before the league shut it down. Scottie Pippen was a very present dad last season, watching as many games as possible in person, including being behind the team bench that final game.
Once the pandemic hit, Pippen Jr. went home where he rested and worked with his father. Pippen had his son lifting weights building up his legs and upper-body strength. They also worked on everything basketball from his shot and ball-handling along with watching film.
Dad had a willing pupil.
“I’m mature enough to know that my dad had some success,” Pippen Jr. said. “I know he wants the best for me. I know he knows a lot about the game. He’s been there, he’s done what I want to do. ... So you know I trust him.”
Now he’s at the top of every scouting report, the focus of every team’s best defender not to let Pippen Jr. beat them.
He now is 3 inches taller and 10 pounds heavier — 6-foot-3, 170 — than his last year in high school. The added muscle helps as he repeatedly drives to the basket for buckets, trips to the free-throw line or passes to teammates over double-teams. He’s the only Commodore not to miss a game this season and is constantly talking to teammates during breaks in games.
“He’s making all of the right plays offensively,” Stackhouse said. “He’s taking what the defense gives him.”
The challenge has been getting Vanderbilt (4-7, 0-5) to play up to Pippen Jr.’s level, which hasn’t been easy in a season of stops and starts due to COVID-19 issues and contact tracing. Two of the Commodores’ last four games have been postponed, but they visit Florida on Wednesday night.
His father has watched a few games in person with Vanderbilt allowing family to attend for players and staff.
So Pippen Jr. keeps driving the lane fearlessly, just as he’s done even as a child, learning the angles to help him finish better around the rim with each trip.
“Game by game,” Pippen Jr. said, “I’m just learning this year.”