Jarred Vanderbilt is the catalyst John Calipari’s 2018 Kentucky Wildcats have been looking for. Â He did not post an extravagant stat line. Â He did not dominate the game in any one particular way. Â That’s what makes him perfect for this team.
Vanderbilt’s surprise debut at South Carolina began with a flurry of frantic play all over the court. Â A wild missed four-footer barely hit the rim. Â An interior pass was thrown ten times too strong. Â He picked up a quick foul. Â He did everything you expect a kid to do in the first two minutes of his first college game.
Once Vanderbilt shook off the jitters, he plugged holes in UK’s sinking life-boat.
Without Quade Green for the third straight game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finally found himself on the bench in foul trouble. Â Hamidou Diallo was sitting right next to him on the bench, leaving Brad Calipari as the only guard available. Â Vanderbilt was prepared to fill the hole.
The 6’9″ small forward seamlessly turned into a point forward. Â The operator of the offense found Calipari for an open three. Â He turned an offensive rebound into an assist, an And One to Sacha Killeya-Jones. Â Even if the possession did not end in points, it ended with a good look that Vanderbilt created in the midst a choppy, physical game that had zero offensive flow. Â That was just while he was running point in the half-court.
On the other end of the court Vanderbilt played exceptional help defense, recovering in time to deny Chris Silva a dunk. Â If he cleaned the defensive glass, he was leading the Kentucky fast break. Â Once while running the floor, he turned one sloppy transition pass into a bucket for a teammate. AgainstÂ South Carolina’s zone defense, he picked it apart from the middle with a finesse UK fans had not seen in 2018.
We’ve seen all of Vanderbilt’s teammates do all of those things to become a 14-win team, but as the final score indicated, putting a consistent product on the floor is a problem for this team. Â Vando can solve that problem by picking up the slack.
Kentucky’s newest player finished his first game with 6 points (2-5 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a block, 2 turnovers and a +7, second only to Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Vanderbilt did a little bit of everything that everybody else couldn’t do tonight. Â The only problem is that he only did it in 14 minutes. Â Out of playing shape, Vanderbilt scored Kentucky’s final field goal with 6:33 to play, but Calipari could not keep the gassed athlete on the court much longer.
The UK debut of Jarred Vanderbilt ended sourly but provided plenty of promise. Â Is it unfair to extrapolate a debut into exceptionally high expectations? Â Of course; just ask Morakinyo Williams.
What makes Vanderbilt different than others is how he will help this team. Â He does not need to score to be an impact player. Â Tonight he proved he can do all of the little things to make sure Kentucky is clicking whenever they take the court.