Ex-Cats

‘I feel great.’ After almost a year off, ex-Cat Vanderbilt close to NBA debut.

60 seconds of Jarred Vanderbilt

Photos of Jarred Vanderbilt from the 2017-2018 Kentucky Wildcats basketball season. Music: www.bensound.com
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Photos of Jarred Vanderbilt from the 2017-2018 Kentucky Wildcats basketball season. Music: www.bensound.com

Jarred Vanderbilt has not taken the floor for a basketball game that counts in almost a year.

It looks as if the former University of Kentucky forward is about to get back to it.

“I’m very excited to finally be close to playing,” Vanderbilt said Tuesday in a story published by MileHighSports.com after his first public interview since media day last fall. “I feel great right now and have been trying to progress every day, and the main thing right now is just getting better every day.”

Vanderbilt has missed the first 46 games of his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets recovering from multiple injuries, including one to the bothersome right foot that plagued him last year at Kentucky. He could see his first action as a pro when the Nuggets host the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. Or his debut could come for Denver’s G League affiliate.

The 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt has made good use of his time off, having begun practicing with the team part-time in December. Having missed parts of his high school career because of injuries and then seeing his one season at Kentucky shortened to just 14 games, Vanderbilt said the mental challenges have been as trying as the physical.

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Jarred Vanderbilt played in 14 games for Kentucky, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

When asked Tuesday what it will take to finally get back on the court, the 19-year-old Vanderbilt told the Denver Post, “Consistency. “Being able to play and produce consistently without it having any pain. Also, just the mental aspect, having more trust (with) my feet.”

The Post report said Vanderbilt has been working with Nuggets shooting coach Mark Price to improve his game.

Vanderbilt, whose last game at Kentucky was March 3 of last year at Florida, averaged 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game at UK. He shot 42.6 percent from the field (29-for-68) and missed his only three-point attempt.

“It started when I first got here,” Vanderbilt told the Denver Post. “When I could barely move, we started doing form shooting, and I think each week and each month we’ve just gotten better and more consistent with my jump shot.”

Much like at Kentucky, Vanderbilt’s combination of length, athleticism and ball-handling ability have raised curiosity in Denver.

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Vanderbilt was chosen in the second round with the 41st overall pick in last June’s draft by Orlando, which traded him to Denver on draft night. He signed a three-year contract worth a reported $4 million.

“I can see his defensive versatility is going to be really intriguing,” Nuggets Coach Michael Malone told the Denver Post. “He has the athleticism and the lateral quickness to guard multiple positions. In college at Kentucky, in the games he played, he’s an elite rebounder.”

Vanderbilt has been joined in his rehab grind by 2018 first-round draft pick Michael Porter Jr. from Missouri, who has also missed the entire season while recovering from back surgery.

“Just having him, knowing that he’s going through the same thing that I was going through, we were able to help pick each other up,” Vanderbilt said in the Post story.

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