Jarred Vanderbilt has one final hurdle to clear before debut


Kentucky Wildcats forward Jarred Vanderbilt celebrates during the second half of the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, January 6, 2017 in Knoxville, TN. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Chris Leach

The Kentucky basketball team defeated Texas A&M 74-73 on Tuesday evening, despite being down to seven scholarship players.

Good news for the Cats, though: They could add another scholarship player to the rotation soon, as freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt is reportedly nearing his anticipated debut for the Cats.

Recap: Cats win nail-biter against Texas A&M 

However, there is still one final hurdle left for Vanderbilt to clear in order for him to make his debut, and it’s all up to Vanderbilt to clear it. 

“He’s just not mentally ready to go on the court,” head coach John Calipari said after the team beat Texas A&M. “He’s going to have to make that decision, and it’s more mental. He can play, I don’t think he can play 40 minutes or anything like that, but he can play.”

Vanderbilt proved he could play when he practiced with the team for the first time before Tuesday’s game. Vanderbilt reportedly had a good practice and impressed his head coach in the process.

“I never remembered him being as physically strong as he is, like he changed up practice, and it was physical,” Calipari said. 

The players who participated in that practice also believe that Monday’s practice was physical.

“He made us battle yesterday in practice and I can’t wait for him to get back,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said.

Hamidou Diallo, who underwent a similar situation last year in adapting to a team midseason, knows what Vanderbilt is going through in returning mid-year. While Diallo didn’t play a single minute for the Cats last year, he still had to adapt to practice against now NBA guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.

Diallo said the transition to jumping into practice mid-year can be a challenge for anyone, and Vanderbilt has handled it well, but he’s going to need help from his teammates.

“The biggest thing is just learning, and when he gets in we’re going to have to help him as much as possible,” Diallo said. “I can’t wait to get him back on the floor, get him to play basketball again.”

No matter how much his teammates help him, Vanderbilt won’t make an on-court appearance until Calipari believes Vanderbilt is mentally able to play a college basketball game. Calipari said he’d ideally like to see Vanderbilt debut in a home game so he’s more comfortable with a home crowd to back him up. 

UK’s next home game won’t take place until Jan. 20 when the Florida Gators come to Lexington. That game is sold out, and could be a big determinant in the final standings of the SEC.