An off-hand comment by John Calipari — caught by ESPN’s cameras during UK’s nationally televised practice earlier this week — gave Wildcats’ fans hope that injured freshman Jarred Vanderbilt might make his college debut sooner than expected.
Vanderbilt — a 6-foot-9 forward — suffered a foot injury late last month that UK originally announced was likely to sideline him until January.
Calipari said during the Pro Day practice that the severity of Vanderbilt’s injury might be “less than we thought” originally.
Neither player nor coach offered a specific new timetable for Vanderbilt’s possible return to the court during Thursday’s media day, but both did give a glimmer of hope that he could be back to playing basketball sooner than January.
“They’re going to re-evaluate here in another week or so, then figure out where it goes,” Calipari said. “It would be an unbelievable blessing for him and us if he were able to start coming back to play. But, you know, you let the doctors and the experts deal with that. They wanted to look at it a little bit more before they made a decision and let him feel it, see what he felt like.”
Vanderbilt was wearing a walking boot on his injured left foot Thursday.
“Right now, we’re just trying to be optimistic,” he said. “We’ll definitely re-evaluate it. Hopefully it’s not as bad as (they thought). … I’m just playing it by ear.”
Vanderbilt injured the same foot last June, and that setback kept him sidelined for much of the summer travel season and lingered on into his senior year. He also injured his right ankle in the Jordan Brand Classic in April and was not 100-percent healthy when he arrived on UK’s campus a couple of months later.
“Injuries happen. It’s part of the game,” he said. “My biggest thing is just getting healthy and moving on from it. Just trying to put the injury behind me and just playing my game.”
247Sports ranked Vanderbilt as the No. 9 overall recruit nationally in the class of 2017, and he’s been viewed as a possible one-and-done player at Kentucky.
Calipari said Thursday that Vanderbilt is arguably the team’s best shot blocker, noting that he’s so versatile he could also play the point guard position, if needed.
“It’s going to hurt us,” he said. “But this gives guys an opportunity for more minutes.”
The UK coach then specifically mentioned Wenyen Gabriel, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones as players whose role might be expanded due to Vanderbilt’s injury.
“One guy’s misery is another guy’s opportunity,” Calipari said.
Killeya-Jones — a 6-10 sophomore and one of only three non-freshman scholarship players on UK’s roster this season — lamented his teammate’s misfortune but said the rest of the Cats would be prepared to fill the temporary void.
“He can do a lot of things on the court,” Killeya-Jones said. “He’s a really special player, and we’re looking forward to being that much stronger when he gets back. But, for now … it’s going to leave a gap that a lot of people will have to step into, and we’ll all have to add different parts to our game.
“I think we’re all ready to do that.”