By LARRY VAUGHT
In the 10 games Jarred Vanderbilt has played since coming back from his preseason leg injury, Kentucky is 4-6 and suffered a four-game losing streak — the longest in coach John Calipari’s tenure at UK.
However, Vanderbilt’s emergence continues to be seen as the key to any hopes UK has for a late-season run.
The 6-9 Vanderbilt is averaging 4.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in 15.1 minutes of play. But he’s shooting just 34 percent from the field and has had trouble making shots other than dunks.
He had 12 points and nine rebounds in the win over Alabama Saturday. Alabama coach Avery Johnson called him a “utility player” who makes Kentucky better with his energy.
“He’s got to slow down some, too. Just slow down. I mean, it doesn’t — it means, play fast but don’t be in a hurry. I want you to fly but don’t be in a hurry, and sometimes he gets anxious. He starts running and his mind is moving as fast as his feet,” Calipari said.
But he can rebound. He has a knack for knowing where the ball will be. If he has position, the ball is almost always his. If he doesn’t have position, he still often finds a way to get a hand on the ball and keep it alive.
“He’s got a great energy. Every day in practice, every day during the games. He’s a great player and a great guy,” Kentucky freshman teammate P.J. Washington said.
Calipari pulled out an all-time comparison for Vanderbilt by saying he was like former NBA all-star Dennis Rodman, a player who was an incredible rebounder with unlimited energy who had very little range on his shot.
“That’s who he is. How about this, be Dennis Rodman. He did all right. He can guard every position. He rebounds offensively. Defensively he can pass. He’s skilled. Made his free throws,” Calipari said after Saturday’s win.
Rodman was named to the NBA all-defensive team seven times and won NBA defensive player of the year twice. He led the NBA in rebounding seven straight years and won five NBA championships during his career from 1986 to 2000 with five teams, including the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was his teammate.
Does Vanderbilt even know Rodman?
“I didn’t really watch him that much but I hear he plays hard and gives all effort,” Vanderbilt said.
He took no offense to Calipari comparing him to a player with limited offensive skills.
“I think he just means the effort with rebounding and stuff like that; just impacting the game,” Vanderbilt said.
Washington said he “definitely” knew who Rodman was and said Vanderbilt’s versatility makes him special.
“He can pretty much do everything on the floor. He rebounds like crazy, just every putback he just got to start making them. Once he starts doing that, he’s going to be great for us,” Washington said.
Vanderbilt went 4-for-10 from the field against Alabama but made several second-half field goals that helped secure the win.
“That obviously boosts your confidence. I missed some early in the game but I just kept playing and they ended up falling late in the game,” Vanderbilt said.
He also understands the value of his offensive rebounding even if he’s not making shots.
“Any extra possessions we can get for the team, I try to go after them. I just tell my guys, we go up that way. We can get them off the rim. With shots coming off the board, it gave us the chance to offensive rebound,” Vanderbilt said.
“It was just mental. It was like we are going to kill the boards. That was our mindset going into the game and told the guards if they can get it up, obviously try to make it. But, if not, we are coming right there for the putback.”