Five-star basketball recruit Jarred Vanderbilt, who surprisingly announced his commitment to Kentucky on Friday morning, was in the early stages of his high school career when 247Sports national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer watched him for the first time.
Vanderbilt gave Meyer flashbacks to another talented young basketball player.
“When I first saw Jarred — it was the fall of his sophomore year at a camp in Texas — and he immediately reminded me of a young Lamar Odom,” Meyer said Friday afternoon. “Just with his ball handling, passing — that point-forward type game as a left-hander. He’s just not quite as tall.”
Meyer was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt when his Commodores played Odom and Rhode Island in 1998. In that game, Odom, a versatile 6-foot-10 forward who had a much different playing style in college than his later career in the NBA, scored 20 points and led the Rams to an 82-69 victory.
“Lamar Odom controls the game,” Vandy Coach Jan van Breda Kolff said afterward. “He’s a more athletic version of Magic Johnson.”
No one is comparing Vanderbilt, who became UK’s fifth commitment for the class of 2017, to Johnson, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, but the newest UK pledge will have an instant impact in Lexington next season. And, for a 6-8 forward, he can fill a lot of different roles at the next level.
“He’s an extremely good ball handler and passer,” Meyer said. “He’s very dangerous as a defensive rebounder who can start the fast break. He can really push the ball up the court, and he has great vision — does a really good job finding people while on the dribble.
“So he has offensive versatility, and he has it on defense as well. He can guard a bunch of positions. The one weakness in his game is his outside shooting.”
Vanderbilt, who is ranked No. 19 overall by 247Sports, averaged 13.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game for Houston Hoops on the Nike circuit this past summer. He was 4-for-21 (19.0 percent) from three-point range.
The Texas native won’t solve any outside shooting woes for the Wildcats, but he could fill a spot on the perimeter, giving UK a long, tall option at the wing. The Cats could lose all of their scholarship backcourt players after this season: underclassmen and possible NBA Draft picks Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, along with senior guards Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder, as well as senior forward Derek Willis, who plays on the perimeter.
“He can play the ‘3’,” Meyer said of Vanderbilt. “He can guard it. He can handle and he can pass. He’s just not a good shooter, but neither is Isaiah Briscoe.”
Vanderbilt chose UK over fellow finalists North Carolina, Oregon and Texas Christian, where his first cousin is an assistant coach. Many recruiting analysts had been calling Kentucky the favorite in his recruitment, but the timing of Friday’s announcement was unexpected. Vanderbilt took his official visit to UK in October.
“I just felt like it had a family atmosphere when I went out there,” he said. “Coach Cal — he’s a Hall of Fame coach, a great person — and I feel like he does the best with developing his players on and off the court. I feel like it’s just a great school, a great opportunity for me to excel at.”
He joins a UK recruiting class that was already ranked No. 1 nationally after the early signings of point guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green, power forward PJ Washington and center Nick Richards.
Vanderbilt was also one of the few remaining targets for the Wildcats in the class of 2017. The only other players from the group with scholarship offers from Coach John Calipari are 7-footer Mohamed Bamba and 6-9 forward Kevin Knox, who aren’t expected to announce college decisions until the spring; shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who is currently on an official visit to UConn, plans to visit UK next week and could enroll in college during the semester break; and point guard Trae Young, who is thought to be leaning toward Kansas and Oklahoma after UK signed two players at his position last month.
The only recruit likely to be affected by Vanderbilt’s decision would be Knox, a similarly skilled player who has narrowed his list to UK, Duke, Florida State and North Carolina and is expected to take an official visit to Lexington next month.
“In my opinion, for all practical purposes, I think this does rule out UK for Kevin Knox,” Meyer said Friday.
UK basketball commitments in the 2017 rankings