LEXINGTON — Jarred Vanderbilt may be playing for Kentucky sooner than later and that could be good news for the No 21 Wildcats.
Vanderbilt (pictured) has been sitting out since he suffered a leg injury during the first week of workouts, but returned to practice earlier this week. The addition of the 6-foot-8 versatile forward would be a big addition for a Kentucky team in search of more depth going into the final two months of the regular season.
Kentucky’s players have been impressed with Vanderbilt and like the way he’s responded to the early practice sessions with the team.
"He's been playing great,” UK freshman Hamidou Diallo said. “He's been bringing a lot of energy to practice. He's on a timetable. He's just going to take his time and make the right decision to play when the time is right."
Kentucky coach John Calipari has also been impressed with Vanderbilt, but said he’s “just not mentally ready to go on the court.”
“I basically told him, 'Listen, when you go in, you're going to play seven or eight minutes a half, limited minutes for a while. I’m going to put you out there, let you run around, let you feel good about yourself and you're out,' " he said. "But he's going to have to make that decision. It's more mental. I mean, he can play. He couldn't play 40 minutes or anything like that, but he can play. What he does, I never remembered him being as physically strong as he is. He changed up practice. It was physical.”
Aside from his lack of game experience and mental capacity to handle a full work load, Calipari described Vanderbilt as a “willing passer.”
“He's a willing passer, which this team needs,” said the coach. “It would be nice, but I'm not challenging him. I'd like it to be his first game, a home game, so he can get some love, kind of work through what he's got to work through. I'd rather have that than a road game. But I'm going to leave that up to him.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander likes the fact that Vanderbilt will give the Wildcats another unselfish player when he ultimately returns to the court.
PJ Washington is looking forward to playing with Vanderbilt than opposing him on the court. Washington and Vanderbilt have played against each other since grade school and beyond.
"Jarred's a tough guy,” Washington said. “He's been tough since we were kids. I've been playing him since third grade, so I really know a lot about him. I can't wait for him to get back. He's a key to our team and we really need him and he's going to be great for us."
"He gives us another element,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I think he's a matchup problem creating stuff off the dribble at the four spot. He was really tough in practice, physical. He (has) made us better in practice and I can't wait for him to get back fully."
More than anything, more depth will only help the Wildcats as the season progresses.
Keith Taylor is a veteran and award-winning sports writer based in Richmond, Ky. He has been covering University of Kentucky athletics for daily newspapers and website publications for the past 25 years. Taylor currently is sports editor for Kentucky Today and can be reached at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.
Photo of Vanderbilt by Jamie H. Vaught