By LARRY VAUGHT
P.J. Washington has known Kentucky teammate Jarred Vanderbilt since they were third-graders in Texas. He knows more about the UK freshman than anyone else at UK — and knows what he could add to the team this year if he’s finally able to play.
“I can’t wait for him to get back. He’s a key to our team and we really need him and he’s going to be great for us,” Washington said after Tuesday’s 74-73 win over Texas A&M.
Vanderbilt has yet to play this season because of a preseason leg injury. He’s not had surgery but has been rehabbing the leg.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said on his weekly radio show Monday that he thought Vanderbilt was ready and that he changed Monday’s practice with his versatility.
“Yesterday and even today, I loved him in the shootaround. He’s just not mentally ready to go on the court,” Calipari said after the Texas A&M game. “I basically told him, ‘Listen, when you go in, you’re going to play seven or eight minutes a half, limited minutes for a while. I’m going to put you out there, let you run around, let you feel good about yourself and you’re out.'”
Calipari said Vanderbilt can play now but he’s letting the player decide when he will play. Kentucky plays at Vanderbilt Saturday and then at South Carolina Tuesday.
“I mean, he can play. He couldn’t play 40 minutes or anything like that, but he can play. What he does, I never remembered him being as physically strong as he is. He changed up practice. It was physical,” Calipari said.
“ I’m going to tell what else Jarred is. He’s a willing passer. When he gets it, the other team loves it because that team that’s playing with them know he’s passing. He’s a willing passer, which this team needs. It would be nice, but I’m not challenging him.
“I’d like it to be his first game, a home game, so he can get some love, kind of work through what he’s got to work through. I’d rather have that than a road game. But I’m going to leave that up to him. ”
Kentucky’s next home game will be Jan. 20 when it hosts Florida. ESPN announced Tuesday it was making that the setting for College GameDay.
Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said Vanderbilt will give Kentucky, now 3-1 in SEC play, a new element with his versatility.
“I think he’s a matchup problem creating stuff off the dribble at the four spot. He was really tough in practice, physical. He made us better yesterday in practice and I can’t wait for him to get back fully,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
His passing ability will make teammates be alert.
“You have to be ready to shoot and score. I think all guys like to score and it’s always fun playing with a guy who can facilitate,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.