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How much better will Jarred Vanderbilt make Kentucky?

This afternoon, John Calipari reported injured five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt is now practicing with the team, and looks pretty darn good.

In fact, Coach Cal said he had to change the way he ran practice and how the team operates because he was so impressive, proving the impact had to have been pretty substantial.

No one knows when he’ll suit up for Kentucky for the first time, but it’ll be sooner rather than later.

After the news, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg sent out words of encouragement on Vanderbilt’s potential impact for the Wildcats.

“When I saw him this summer, I thought he was the most impactful player in the gym,” he said. “Rebounded, played hard, willing passer, had a floor game, and extremely unselfish.”

Greenberg was in attendance as a head coach in the John Calipari Fantasy Experience, an event KSR has the privilege of covering each year, and we actually got to see the open practices Greenberg is referring to. And he’s absolutely right.

After a rebound, Vanderbilt had the ability to grab the ball and take it from end to end for easy scores. His ball-handling was superb, and his length around the basket was extremely difficult to stop. When Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and Vanderbilt were on the same offense, the combination of length and athleticism was overwhelming for the defense.

For a team that dominates in the transition, Vanderbilt is the perfect addition.

Here’s what else he brings to the table:

Length on defense

Calipari told reporters at UK Media Day that Vanderbilt was the best shot blocker on the team, and his presence on defense was the biggest thing the Cats will miss in his absence. Usually known for his offensive skillset in high school, this news came as a surprise.

We didn’t see as much of that in terms of blocked shots in practice, but his ability to jump the passing lanes and make things difficult for the opposing offense was certainly there. With that, his team was usually able to convert forced turnovers into easy transition buckets.

As we’ve seen with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, defensive intensity has been the difference maker in several games this year. Adding in Vanderbilt for pass deflections, steals, and blocked shots will be huge for the defense, and in turn, help the offense.

Go-to scorer

Watching his highlight tapes from high school, the Lamar Odom comparisons are obvious. He’s smooth in transition and in the half-court offense. He loves the mid-range jumper, and as a result, defenders have to close out on his shot. With that, he’s able to draw fouls and head to the line, or extend over the defender to sink the jumper.

While healing his foot, Vanderbilt has been able to work on shooting and his stroke from the free throw line, just adding to his impressive arsenal on offense.

Most importantly, the Wildcats have had a bad problem with players disappearing in crucial times, including some rough cold spells from both Knox and Diallo. With Vanderbilt, the team has another option when things aren’t clicking for the offense to put points on the board.

He wasn’t a finished product when we saw him this summer, and he got a little shot happy at times, but he is a consistent threat to score whenever the team needs a bucket.


When the Cats got in foul trouble late in the game against Tennessee, Calipari had just six scholarship players at his disposal. You’re not going to win many games on the road like that.

With Vanderbilt, Kentucky has a cushion to work with no matter the circumstance. If a player is struggling, Calipari doesn’t have to force him into the lineup. Injury? There’s some coverage. Foul issues? Next man up.

Jemarl Baker still hasn’t practiced, but he’ll only help the cause when he gets added later in the year.

Depth is a concern right now, but with Vanderbilt, the Cats have a little bit of breathing room.

Long story short, Vanderbilt getting healthy is massive for the Cats on both ends of the floor, and the Big Blue Nation should be excited for his return.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

29 responses to “How much better will Jarred Vanderbilt make Kentucky?”

  1. Saul T. Nuts

    Jared Vanderbilt is the best player on the team.

    1. Rembrandt

      How do you know this? Except for an all star game, Vanderbilt hasn’t played organized basketball in a year and a half. I know Vanderbilt has talent and length, but I want to see him actually play in a college game before we start labeling him. A few months ago, many people here were convinced Kevin Knox was one of the best wing guards in the country.

    2. Shagaris Sock Puppet

      Maybe he can see skill set and translations in his game that will help him excel on this loaded UK roster? Maybe he is and we just haven’t seen it yet. I will say to go along with Saul that Vanderbilt is what this team needs and just at the right time. I feel he is a guy that will push us up a notch tempo wise and help right away defensively, rebounding and transition/attacking the rim at will!

  2. wyatts1

    Ya think🤔🤔, he has been good to go since what appeared to be late December when he made that nba tape. Dudes a beast and has the potential and the energy that’s capable of turning this teams mojo around. Big energy, and big 💓, 2 things Kentucky majorly needs right now!!

  3. az1006

    I don’t disagree, but I’ll believe it when I see it, as far as him suiting up.

    1. wyatts1

      Sadly I believe if it’s not sooner, then they’ll not be a later. Since he’s a freshmen and is young (like all) I can only go by mix tapes and clips from high school, and other events, but I do remember him being one of our highest recruits before Knox came. As long as he brings his energy and his 💓 I’m happy.

    2. Luether

      Agree. Will believe it when I see it…

  4. Han

    I think Cal finally changing his tune and talking about him and his impact on the team is telling.

    1. unbridled

      What do you think it says?

    2. Rembrandt

      It doesn’t say much. It says that Cal thinks Vanderbilt wants to suit up and actually give it a try now. It doesn’t say more than that.

    3. Shagaris Sock Puppet

      He said he changed practice to fit his style of play, I think that says more than hes just playing, hes forcing Cal to favor his skill set, which is something we haven’t seen yet obviously. Hence why hes never used that style in practice, which translates into the games eventually.

  5. KYcats11

    Wow, watching this game makes me realize how lucky we were to have ice water Money MacGinnis. He was the difference between bowl eligibility for us last year, and even these top tier programs don’t have a kicker to match him.

  6. RealCatsFan

    Yep, let’s not start counting poultry just yet. A lot of people were breathlessly waiting for Derek Anderson back in 97 too.

  7. RealCatsFan

    And Bama’s kicker just choked on a 36 yarder for the championship. Austin MacGinnis would have nailed that!

    1. 4everUKblue

      The Bama kicker was the most relieved player on the team after the game winning TD. And yes MacGinnis would have nailed it!

  8. blueballs80

    I like the hype but let’s all calm down, please. We don’t know if we will really play a game or not!

  9. 4everUKblue

    Cal should have the team listen to Kirby Smart’s post game press conference, very impressive.

    1. unbridled

      Agreed. Georgia is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

    2. 4everUKblue

      coming through the tunnel one of his players tells him “I’ll go anywhere with you and I’ll follow you anywhere and I’ll fight for you because I believe in you.” If only all Cal’s players had that attitude.

  10. Rembrandt

    For most of the posters here, everything is almost always black or white. Either they believe the next national championship is just around the corner, or else they are throwing our players and coaches under the bus. So I tip my cap to the minority here who actually have a clue about the realities of developing young players and complexities of building a competitive team.

    Jared Vanderbilt is another talented young cog on the nation’s youngest basketball team. Aside from one all star game, Vanderbilt hasn’t played an organized game of basketball in a year and a half. He should help a team that needs more quality depth and aggressiveness, but he is not superhuman. Let’s give the kid a break and see what he can actually do before some of you start treating him the way other UK players get treated here.

    1. 4everUKblue

      Well said.

  11. makeitstop

    Agreed – his ranking was about like Knox – not a definitive measure but about all we have to go on – so it’s not like Marvin Bagley is stepping out there, he’s got a similar game to existing players, but will not be in as good shape due to months off the game. That said, he gives us options of playing big on D, with more pressing, more length and ability to run and score in transition and he keeps the heat on Diallo and Knox. Personally, I’d love to see someone try and beat a press with SGA, Diallo, JV, PJ and either Gabriel or Knox depending on who’s showing up. All of them can close from behind on a block, too and kick off a fast break the other way. It may allow him to just wear down a team and then close strong w fresh legs and more open looks for guys like Green who have a good stroke when open and will get open more at the end if his guy’s toungue is dragging.

    1. Rembrandt

      I am a fan of Vanderbilt’s athletic tools. If Vanderbilt is now healthy (must be proven), he must get in playing shape and find a role on a team that has been playing without him for three months. Every time he lands on the injured foot, I will hold my breath.

      To address the question posed by Mr. Pilgrim, Vanderbilt can help because this team needs a spark. Vanderbilt has the length and athleticism to help our man defense and rebounding. Probably the best thing he can do right away is to force Kevin Knox and SKJ to compete harder for playing time. But Vanderbilt can’t transform this team until he gets himself into top shape and integrates his game into Cal’s defensive concept. That’s probably six weeks away, and depends on his foot holding up.

  12. CatstopWontstop

    KSR two weeks ago: A Vanderbilt return can’t save this team.
    KSR last week: Vanderbilt is Diallo part two, won’t play this year.

    Let’s all just wait and see. Hope the kid plays because I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table.

    1. Jiminy Crickets


    2. Shagaris Sock Puppet

      I don’t think they are claiming title favorites. You got to understand every time they do a show or post game or even seen in public, you got to think people are asking about Vanderbilt left and right and up and down twice. To end that and make it clear they were just saying what they knew and everyone else knew, that there was no update. If you re not excited about this very exciting player, then go crap in some UL fans cereal bowls, cause im sure they would love some exciting news like that..


    Personally when we signed Vanderbilt, I had high expectations for him bc of his mix tapes and the Jordan AAG where he had 18, and hit like 3 3s before the injury. And I know talent. But for the “fans” that hate ksr BC they’re doing there job and continue to read the site BC it’s free, that’s lame to me. It’s not that big of a deal. Y’all want updates on the guy, here you go. As a real fan, love the great news, expect him to play asap BC he’s a competitor and just wait for the next 5 games. He’ll be playing guarantee. He should know every play front-back I hope since he’s been here since June, unlike Hami last yr. so he’ll have to adjust to speed, which takes 3-4 games avg., and physicality, which takes 0-2 games, depending on opponents. But I agree with the comment that he won’t mess up the chemistry bc we don’t have much.

    1. Shagaris Sock Puppet

      I agree with you! We needed a guy that has character and brings energy to get a run going when needed. I look at Vanderbilt and see the smiles and the energy just oozes off of him. I hope its contagious and carries over to the team and creates some buzz in the huddles and locker room. The one thing this team lacks is fight and energy. One guy can bring that! Just look back to a Ulis or a Gilchrist or even Hawkins last year. We need a guy that smiles and gets the fans into the game and I think we finally have our guy! Only time will tell, but this is perfect timing to have this guy getting ready for a major impact!

  14. Scottscats

    I hold my opinion until he actually plays….he will be a bit rusty…..reminds me of how Dook got Kyrie back late in the year…..hope it all fits together…