After months of anticipation, Jarred Vanderbilt has returned from his mysterious foot injury and is finally beginning to make a real impact on the court. And although he hasn’t completely lived up to the (ridiculously-high) expectations of hopeful fans thus far, he has changed the dynamic of the team. In the South Carolina game – his first college matchup – he gave us six reasons to be really excited for his season. But the brightest news surrounding the 6-foot-9 forward stems from his versatility.
In just three short games, he’s emerged as one of (if not the) best passer on the team; he’s showed us he can guard the perimeter; he’s most definitely showed us he can provide a much-needed energy boost and a sense of urgency. Along with Wenyen Gabriel, Vanderbilt is slowly but surely becoming the motor of this team.
“Jarred can do anything. I mean, he’s a facilitator,” PJ Washington said. “He can play the one-through-five. He’s strong; he can rebound. He rebounds pretty well, obviously. And he can definitely shoot the ball. He’s just a great player. It’s just hard for him to find his niche right now.”
Where he’s still searching is in learning how to get comfortable taking balanced, quality shots. In last night’s win over Mississippi State, Vanderbilt recorded seven rebounds in just 11 minutes, proving why Kentucky, a team that desperately needs guys who can step up and secure rebounds, needs him on the court. But on the other end of the ball, he struggled, finishing the night with 1-7 shooting from the field.
“We haven’t figured him out yet,” Calipari said after the game. “But I’m going to meet with him and spend some time with him and try to get better at what I’m doing to get him involved offensively so he can stay on the court.”
And Kentucky needs him on the court. When foul trouble hits or when Quade Green is having an off-night, the Cats need a go-getter who can do exactly that: go get it done.
“I think he’ll be a guy that gives great energy off the bench,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander responded when asked where Vanderbilt could be by the end of the season. “I think he’ll be a playmaker. Sometimes he could probably give me and Quade [Green] a break because he can run the one. He has to get more comfortable in the offense – he’s still so new to it. But I think he’ll be good in multiple ways.”
Now, I’m not suggesting Vanderbilt is this team’s best player… yet. The guy’s only competed in three collegiate games, and he’s averaging under 14 minutes in each. But if this is what Vanderbilt can do after training on zero-gravity treadmills and shallow pools for several months, it’s safe to say he could begin to really establish his dominance in the upcoming games as he gets more and more comfortable on the floor.
Just in time.