Calipari hoping Eloy Vargas has a little Josh Harrellson in him

Getting extra work on Dominican team

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 13, 2011 

In appraising Eloy Vargas' potential, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the reserve big man needed a "light bulb" to go on.

That was Calipari's way of saying Vargas, who is playing for the Cal-coached Dominican Republic national basketball team that's been practicing in Lexington this month, needed to show more zeal and effort.

"He needs the light bulb to go on like it did with Josh (Harrellson)," Calipari said at a news conference Friday. Harrellson transformed himself last season from butt of a pre-season Calipari quip to selections to the All-Southeastern Conference and All-NCAA East Region teams.

"He did it himself," Calipari said of Harrellson. "He changed his habits. He changed his approach. He changed his attitude. All of a sudden, he got in a game and it started working. And he thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I wish I'd known this three years ago.'"

If the Harrellson example was not fresh enough, Calipari noted how Rajon Rondo, who will play against the Dominican Republic team in an exhibition in Rupp Arena on Monday night, has been working out three times a day.

"That's why he's with the Celtics and other guys are not," the UK coach said of Rondo. "Why? He's in the gym at 11 at night shooting. Do you love it or not? And he does."

Vargas, who sported a beard, said he had been working out diligently this summer. An ankle sprained on Saturday slowed his progress.

Former Florida star Al Horford, also a member of the Dominican Republic team, cited one of his Gators teammates, Joakim Noah, as an example of how much a player can improve from one college season to the next. Horford attributed the leap in improvement to diligent workouts in the summer.

"He was doing more stuff than all of us," Horford said of Noah. "He was in the gym shooting free throws at night. He was committed to getting better. When you have that kind of drive, it's only bound to happen."

Noah and Vargas had similar production in their first full seasons on the major college level. Noah averaged 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 9.4 minutes for Florida in 2004-05. Vargas averaged 1.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 7.7 minutes for UK last season.

That's not to say Vargas can make a spectacular Noah-like leap in productivity. After noting that Vargas had run the floor and rebounded well in Dominican practices, Horford offered no assurances about the future. "We'll see what happens," he said.

Vargas, who began his college career at Florida before transferring to a junior college, acknowledged his struggles last season. "I didn't know the system," he said. Nor was he familiar with Calipari.

As for this coming season, Vargas said, "I think I can contribute pretty good."

Like Horford, Calipari had a wait-and-see response when asked about a reborn Vargas in 2011-12.

"We'll see," said Calipari, who noted the work Vargas has put in this off-season. "He's getting stronger and all that. But you've got to get on that court here at Kentucky and you've got to perform. There's no he-looks-good stuff (at UK). No one really cares. You can be roly-poly, but if you get it done, boy, they love you."

When asked to identify the ceiling to Vargas' game, Calipari again cited the startling transformation on display for Kentucky last season.

"I hope he's Josh Harrellson," the UK coach said. "I hope he says I'm going to do what Josh did."

What Harrellson did began with extra running and conditioning.

"There's no shortcut to that," Calipari said.

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