The schedule says Kentucky’s first game is Friday. But Jarred Vanderbilt’s season will not begin until some to-be-determined date in the future.
An injury to his left foot has sidelined Vanderbilt this preseason. Initially, UK said he would not play until January. Coach John Calipari struck a more optimistic tone recently, which suggested an earlier return to action.
Those close to Vanderbilt support UK’s caution about bringing the player back too soon.
“It might be a little sooner than that,” the player’s father, Robert Vanderbilt, said of a January return. “But Coach Cal has not talked about that. He’s talked about ‘We’re not going to rush him back.’
“Coach Cal is going to bring him back slowly.”
The elder Vanderbilt said he had spoken to Calipari about how the player’s basketball future as well as Kentucky’s season would be part of the decision-making process.
“We’re talking longevity here . . . ,” Robert Vanderbilt said. “There’s no sense in rushing.”
Former Louisville standout Rodney McCray, who coached Vanderbilt at the Houston-based Victory Prep Academy, welcomed a cautious approach.
“As athletes, as players, sometimes you get back out there so fast, you don’t rest enough,” he said. “He’s like that. He wants to be on the court with his teammates and out there playing.
“I told him, you’re at one of the best schools in the country. They want to make sure you’re right and ready to come back when it’s time to come back. If you need extra time, they’re going to give you extra time. They’re going to make sure that you’re ready to go when it’s time. They’re going to look out for your best interests.”
Vanderbilt has a history of foot and ankle problems. He suffered an injury in the final minute of the Jordan Brand Classic last spring and had to be helped to the bench while putting no weight on his right foot. He fell to the floor as he drove to the basket with 36 seconds left.
Shortly after the game, Vanderbilt posted a message on social media: “I’m good y’all. Thanks for the love.”
Vanderbilt was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot in June 2016. That injury prevented him from playing for the Team USA U17 team and sidelined him for the remaining games in the Nike summer circuit.
He had another injury to his left foot at the beginning of his senior season.
At UK media day, Vanderbilt said the latest injury was to his left foot. He said it was a different type of injury, but he didn’t elaborate.
McCray attributed the injuries to bad luck. For instance, he said, Vanderbilt’s injury at the beginning of his senior season was caused by inadvertently stepping on another player’s foot.
“I’m always telling him you’ve got to turn a negative into a positive,” McCray said.
In this case, Vanderbilt can use the time he’s sidelined to observe and gain insights that can help him once he again plays, McCray said.
Robert Vanderbilt said his son had stopped wearing a protective boot about two weeks ago. He said his son is still in the rehabilitation process, working out with a UK trainer and shooting shots on his own.
“He’s not actually practicing with the team,” Robert Vanderbilt said. “But he’s out there during practice and getting some shots up and just kind of going through some solo work.”
McCray vouched for Vanderbilt’s diligence.
“He’s a real hard worker,” McCray said. “Whatever rehab they tell him to do, he’s going to do that. I anticipate him coming back stronger and ready to go.”
Vanderbilt, a 6-foot-9 forward, was generally considered the third-highest rated freshman in this UK class. Only Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo were rated higher.
McCray spoke of Vanderbilt’s game being worth the wait.
“He’s a true point-forward,” McCray said. “He’s an excellent ball handler and an excellent athlete.
“He needs to improve his outside game. One thing he really, really needs to work on, which he has already, is his shooting. But he’s the total package.”
McCray likened Vanderbilt to another left-handed player, Lamar Odom. He also cited another former NBA player.
“He’s got a little Scottie Pippen in him,” McCray said. “Great anticipation. Plays the passing lanes. Excellent vision.”
Utah Valley at Kentucky
What: Men’s basketball season opener
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Series: First meeting