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Pflugerville’s Dylan Disu played with ‘chip on my shoulder’ to prove he belonged at Texas

Disu averaged 9.2 rebounds last season at Vanderbilt, but Texas trainers are taking it slow after knee injury

Vanderbilt transfer Dylan Disu earned American-Statesman All-Central Texas recognition when he played for Hendrickson in 2019. After two seasons in Nashville, Tenn., where he established himself as one of the SEC's top rebounders, he's now a Longhorn.

It doesn’t sound as if new Texas forward Dylan Disu liked the nickname he acquired at Vanderbilt. Nope. No, sir.

“So I know back at Vandy, you kind of had the nickname Bambi because you were long and lean …” a reporter began asking him.

Wait. Stop. Come again?

“I didn’t know that. Did you?” Longhorns coach Chris Beard turned and asked guard Courtney Ramey. Question marks appeared from everywhere.

“Bambi?!” Ramey blurted.

“I just want to preface this answer,” Disu said. “That was my freshman year nickname. I grew out of it my sophomore year.”

Has he ever.

Sitting before Texas reporters recently, Disu sure looked like a full-grown machine. Folks back in Pflugerville probably had fun teasing the 6-foot-9 forward about that nickname. He was a lanky 185-pounder in high school. Now, he’s 220 and was one of the SEC’s best rebounders last season. Best not to agitate him.

Disu badly wanted to attend Texas when he finished at Hendrickson. The three-year starter averaged 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds as a senior and was an easy pick for the American-Statesman’s All-Central Texas team in 2019. 

“It was my dream school growing up,” Disu said of UT.

But then-Texas coach Shaka Smart and his staff were all in with Westlake big man Will Baker, that season's Statesman Player of the Year. At the time, nobody questioned it. Smart persuaded the local star to stay home. Another local standout took great offense.

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Baker played his freshman year at Texas and then transferred. Disu went to Vanderbilt and became a stud. He averaged 7.4 points as a freshman and then roared to 15 as a sophomore. He was averaging 9.2 rebounds last year before suffering a knee injury in late February that kept him out the rest of the season.

“I can’t completely tell you why (Texas passed), but I just think that after high school, I wasn’t fully developed,” Disu said. “I filled out after I went to college.” 

Hendrickson's Dylan Disu, left, and Vandegrift's Greg Brown III could have been teammates at UT if Disu had been recruited by his dream school in 2019. Disu has joined the Longhorns after a transfer, but Brown has moved on to the NBA.

Disu bulked up, learned his way around a college weight room, “and I worked on my game as well,” he said. “I developed being able to play off the dribble more in my second year at Vanderbilt. Those are some things I was lacking coming out of high school.”

As for his personal motivation, Disu said, “I basically play with a chip on my shoulder. Just trying to play as hard as I could and show that I was good enough to go to Texas.”

So why transfer? Disu said the pandemic prevented his family from going to Nashville, Tenn., to see games. COVID-19 protocols plus his knee injury prompted Disu to look at schools closer to home. Beard snapped him up. The stars had finally aligned.

More:One-on-one with Chris Beard: Texas coach talks recruiting, defense and energizing fans

“I can’t speak for what happened here” at UT, Beard said. “What I would tell you is Shaka just had three people in the NBA draft a couple months ago. I don’t think it was Shaka’s impression that Dylan can’t play. You can’t take everybody.

“Great players find a way to motivate themselves,” Beard added. “I don’t know what y’all heard, but I heard a little bit of that in Dylan’s voice. It doesn’t surprise me. Competitors are always looking for an edge.”

Disu might be ultraexcited to wear burnt orange, but the trainers are still keeping tabs on that knee. 

Disu himself sought out the MRI that led to him shutting it down last February. “Could he have probably finished the season? Maybe,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse told reporters at the time.

Given his frame, body growth and game expansion, Disu’s careful approach should serve him well.

Jaxson Hayes and Kai Jones are just two recent examples of UT players who started slowly but made exponential growth as the season wore on. Disu could be another one.

Beard said Disu is “ahead of schedule” and has been cleared for physical contact, just not five-on-five play yet. 

“The objective here is for him to be a longtime basketball player, play until he’s 40,” Beard said. “It would be great if Dylan could have a double-double on Nov. 9. But more important to me is coaching him in a Monday night game one time, maybe two, and then watching him play in the NBA one day.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.