UK Men's Basketball

He was 50-50 on entering draft. Ex-Cat grateful Calipari recognized ‘smartest move.’

Aiden Hall, 8, of Nicholasville posed with former UK player Jarred Vanderbilt on Tuesday evening during an autograph session at Allsports in Fayette Mall.
Aiden Hall, 8, of Nicholasville posed with former UK player Jarred Vanderbilt on Tuesday evening during an autograph session at Allsports in Fayette Mall.

A familiar scenario played out in Jarred Vanderbilt’s decision to enter this year’s NBA Draft even though it was reasonable to think his injury-plagued one-season Kentucky “career” left him ill-prepared for professional basketball.

John Calipari made him do it, or at least contributed to his belief that he could do it.

“He gave me the assurance because I initially didn’t know whether I wanted to make that leap or come back,” Vanderbilt said before an autograph session in Lexington on Tuesday. “But him being by my side and, you know, edging me that I should do that gave me the assurance that I should do it. I was really thankful for that.

“I told him what I wanted to do. That I was 50-50. I didn’t know which way to go. But he supported me and supported my decision. He was saying with my injuries, (entering the draft) might be the best and smartest move.

“I feel good. I feel confident in my healing process and the situation that I landed in. I’m grateful for everything.”

Vanderbilt is not the first UK player in the program’s one-and-done era to receive Calipari’s blessing, if not encouragement, to go for it. He famously joked (?) about wrestling John Wall to the floor if the star guard did not decide to enter the 2010 NBA Draft. Wall ultimately entered the draft and became the first UK player selected with the first overall pick.

Vanderbilt acknowledged that a fear of re-injury next season contributed in his decision to enter this year’s NBA Draft.

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Fans waited to meet former UK player Jarred Vanderbilt on Tuesday during an autograph session at Allsports. Matt Goins

“You never know,” he said. “My stock was still pretty high. So I feel that was the best move.”

Vanderbilt downplayed the likelihood of another injury. A series of injuries interrupted his high school career, and then reduced his UK season to a series of cameo appearances, albeit very busy cameo appearances. He led the team in rebounding average despite playing only the seventh most minutes.

Vanderbilt said he is not overly concerned about re-injury “because, honestly, it’s been the same injury. I (repeatedly) came back too fast. It’s not like it’s been multiple injuries. It’s been the same one. I feel like now with having time to heal, there’s no rush. It should be fine, now.”

A McDonald’s All-American, Vanderbilt missed UK’s first 17 games because of a lower leg injury. He made his debut at South Carolina on Jan. 16, but then sat out the UK postseason.

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Ronnie Justice of Pikeville watched as former UK player Jarred Vanderbilt signed his UK basketball on Tuesday evening during an autograph session at Allsports in Fayette Mall. Matt Goins

“It was tough getting in a rhythm offensively and all that,” he said, “and establishing a role. But I feel like being 100-percent healthy for this upcoming season, I’ll be able to display a lot more.”

Vanderbilt stopped short of saying he expects to be 100-percent healthy when his NBA team, the Denver Nuggets, begins pre-season training camp.

“Right now, I can’t say that,” he said. “It’s day to day right now.”

More than once, UK Coach John Calipari likened Vanderbilt to Dennis Rodman. This comparison to a zealous rebounder-defender made the player smile.

“Cal says that a lot,” he said. “That’s a great guy to pattern (yourself) after.”

Vanderbilt said he can be more versatile than Rodman, especially as a play-maker. But he also said he would be less flamboyant. For instance, he won’t be wearing a wedding dress.

“Nah, nah, nah,” he said. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

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