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.
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.