Video by Zack Eagles
In the weeks following his family’s establishment of the inaugural Perry E. Wallace Jr. Basketball Scholarship, David Williams II, Vanderbilt University’s vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director, knew he had a decision to make.
Williams needed to nominate a Vanderbilt men’s basketball player to be the first recipient of the Perry Wallace scholarship for the 2018-19 season. Williams and his family – his wife, Gail, and their four children, Nicholas, Samantha, David II and Erika – conferred and decided the recipient should represent the values for which Wallace, who passed away in December 2017, stood during his trailblazing career at Vanderbilt.
The Williams family needed little deliberation before ultimately settling on a name: Joe Toye.
“We went back to the family and voted,” Williams said. “The vote was 6-0 for Joe.”
Toye, an economics major at Vanderbilt, entered this fall as the lone senior on the Commodores’ roster under third-year head coach Bryce Drew. Like most within the Vanderbilt basketball family, Toye was plenty familiar with the legacy of Wallace, who in 1967 became the Southeastern Conference’s first black basketball player to participate in a varsity game. Wallace later became an All-SEC player for the Commodores, graduated in 1970 with a bachelor of engineering and went on to become a law professor at American University.
Toye could not help but recall Wallace’s impact on SEC basketball when Williams delivered the news of his scholarship.
“It was kind of unreal to hear,” Toye said. “Perry Wallace made such a big impact on Vanderbilt and, really, college basketball in general. It’s a real honor, and it’s been amazing to honor him.”
Toye, a native of Chicago, has been a staple of the Commodores’ roster for four seasons. When Vanderbilt hosts No. 20 Arizona State on Monday at Memorial Gym, Toye will suit up for his 106th career game as a Dore. He has scored in double-figures in five of eight games this season for Vanderbilt (6-2), including a season-high 16 points in a win over Southern California on Nov. 11.
“Perry Wallace made such a big impact on Vanderbilt and, really, college basketball in general. It’s a real honor, and it’s been amazing to honor him.”
But Toye has made the most of his time off the court at Vanderbilt, as well. Last summer, he participated in Vanderbilt Athletics’ internship program by shadowing former Commodore All-SEC player Matt Freije at Farmington Financial Group in Nashville. When Vanderbilt hosted its inaugural Equality Weekend during a matchup with Ole Miss in Jan. 2017, Toye wore the name of Sen. Thelma Harper on the back of his No. 2 jersey. The then-junior took it upon himself to reach out to Harper, who in 1991 became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Tennessee Senate. To Toye, history mattered, and he wanted to represent Sen. Harper with a greater understanding of her historic career.
Those reasons are why Williams continues to view Toye as a true student-athlete, just as Wallace prioritized his full career at Vanderbilt.
“Joe will stop and talk to me a lot, and it’s interesting that it’s generally not about basketball,” Williams said. “Perry saw coming to Vanderbilt and playing basketball on scholarship as a way to get an education to better himself and better his family. I see a lot of that in Joe. There’s a chance Joe might play at the next level, but he never talks about that. It’s always, I got the opportunity to come to Vanderbilt, I chose Vanderbilt because it would provide the opportunity to play in the SEC and get a great education. And he’s used every bit of that.
“Student-athletes here, they all come with a very strong athletic identity. We try to make sure they get an academic identity. When you start to think about a Vanderbilt student-athlete, Joe is that example.”
“When you start to think about a Vanderbilt student-athlete, Joe is that example.”
Toye long ago made the decision to get the most out of his Vanderbilt education. But his new role as a representative of Wallace’s immeasurable legacy has added an element of history to his final season in black and gold. Now, as the Commodores chase another trip to the NCAA Tournament, Toye has begun to reflect on the final chapter of his career on West End.
“I made the best decision of my life coming to Vanderbilt,” Toye said. “I’ve had a great time playing basketball, but as a student I’ve gotten one of the best educations out there. It’s been a fantastic opportunity, and I’m thankful for it.”