In need of another capable player for his early season practices, John Calipari has turned to a 6-foot-9 power forward from Olive Hill.
A couple of hours before Friday night’s Blue-White scrimmage, UK announced that Ben Jordan — a right-handed pitcher on the Wildcats’ baseball team — will also play for the men’s basketball team this season.
Jordan was a standout player in both sports at West Carter High School, where he emerged as a nationally recruited pitcher but was also among the best basketball players in school history.
As a high school senior in the 2016-17 season, Jordan averaged 14.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. He left West Carter as the program’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots, and he was eighth in school history in scoring.
Jordan did not play in Friday night’s scrimmage at Rupp Arena, but he was on the court for preliminary warm-ups and sat on the bench during the intrasquad game.
Calipari said after the scrimmage that he needed another body for practices, especially with reigning Mr. Basketball Dontaie Allen still not fully cleared to play after suffering a torn ACL last December.
Luckily for Calipari, the baseball program had a 6-9 player with a basketball background.
“He’s 6-9 and he’s got a great way about him, a great disposition,” Calipari said. “And obviously, I keep telling EJ (Montgomery), ‘As soon as he gets in a little better shape he’s going to be dunking on you.’”
Jordan isn’t quite there yet.
Calipari said there was nothing in the way of a tryout for the former high school star. He simply found out the baseball squad had a good basketball player and invited him to check out practice.
The Herald-Leader was told that Jordan watched Tuesday’s practice, which served as his introduction to the team. The basketball team was off Wednesday, and Jordan returned to the Craft Center on Thursday, when he had an individual workout with UK assistant coach Kenny Payne. He went through a shootaround with the team Friday before the scrimmage.
By Friday night, Jordan was on the Rupp Arena court, corralling rebounds during early warm-ups.
Kentucky forward Nate Sestina said he hasn’t actually played against Jordan yet, but he welcomed the addition, saying it would free up the Wildcats’ relatively thin frontcourt — Nick Richards and Montgomery are the only other true post players — to do more in practice. It also gives UK an extra body for scrimmages.
“It’s going to help us out in practice, especially when guys get sick or a guy has an injury or something like that,” Sestina said. “It’s going to be beneficial — especially with the bigs — to be able to guard people and give us an extra body and help us out in practice.”
Jordan will wear jersey No. 33 for the Wildcats. He wears No. 3 on the baseball field, but that number is assigned to freshman guard Tyrese Maxey.
The newest Wildcat ranks in the top 30 on Kentucky’s all-time record list in both rebounds and blocked shots.
Jordan took a redshirt season during his first year on UK’s campus and made his college debut — pitching a total of 8 ⅔ innings — in 2019.
He’ll be listed as a redshirt sophomore for the Kentucky basketball team.
“Like so many others in the state of Kentucky, basketball has been a part of my life since I was just a kid,” Jordan said in a statement Friday. “When the opportunity presented itself to join the UK basketball team, I wanted to go into it with an open mind, especially since I stepped away from the sport to focus on baseball. After a couple of days of practice, it’s clear to me that this is something I want to commit to.
“Baseball has been and will remain my top priority, but I’m excited about the opportunity and the challenge of competing in two sports I love to play. I’ve talked to Coach (Nick) Mingione about it and we did this with his full blessing. I’m looking forward to helping in practice and being a great teammate this season.”