UK Men's Basketball

Top basketball recruit Jarred Vanderbilt makes most of visit to Kentucky

Jarred Vanderbilt of Victory Prep Academy in action against Hillcrest Academy during the Bluegrass Showcase in the S. T. Roach gym at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.
Jarred Vanderbilt of Victory Prep Academy in action against Hillcrest Academy during the Bluegrass Showcase in the S. T. Roach gym at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Herald-Leader

From a team standpoint, the past two weekends spent in Kentucky weren’t the best for Jarred Vanderbilt, one of the top high school basketball players in the country.

Vanderbilt’s young Victory Prep squad made the trip from Texas to participate in the Marshall County Hoop Fest and this past weekend’s Bluegrass Showcase in Lexington, dropping two games at each event — three of them by more than 15 points.

From an individual standpoint, however, Vanderbilt confirmed his status as one of the top 10 prospects in the class of 2017.

The highlight of his four-game stretch in Kentucky came Sunday, when he tallied 33 points, 23 rebounds and nine assists in a 121-101 loss to Word of God Academy (N.C.) in a game that remained close until overmatched Victory Prep ran out of steam in the second half.

“I think I played well,” Vanderbilt told the Herald-Leader. “I did what I could for the team. We didn’t get any victories, but we’re still a young team. ... We put up a good fight.”

Vanderbilt — a 6-foot-8 forward — was impressive in defeat, especially Sunday. He made three-pointers with regularity, battled all comers on the boards, handled the ball like a point guard and delivered crisp, well-timed passes in a manner unusual for a player his size.

He also did those things whether or not his team was in a close game or getting blown out of the gym.

“It’s just a passion. It’s love for the game,” Vanderbilt said. “I’m never going to stop. Even if you’re down 40, you can cut it to 20. That’s the way I look at it. I’d rather say we lost by 20 than 40. It’s just not in me to give up.

“I have to keep fighting until the last second.”

Vanderbilt’s father, former Prairie View A&M assistant coach Robert Vanderbilt, said his son has had that never-say-die trait since he was a little kid.

“He works hard every day, and he’s really serious about his game,” the elder Vanderbilt said. “I’m just so proud that he never gives up. It doesn’t matter if he’s down 40 or 50 or if he’s up 40 or 50, he still continues to play. And he never wants to come out. We try to give him a break every now and then, but he wants to continue to work.”

Vanderbilt’s play has caught the eye of UK Coach John Calipari, who extended a scholarship offer to the high school junior over the summer and attended two of his four games in Kentucky over the past two weekends.

UK also hosted Vanderbilt and his mother for Saturday’s game against Arizona State. It happened to be the first time Vanderbilt had attended a college basketball game while on a recruiting visit.

“The atmosphere at Rupp Arena was just great,” he said. “It’s a great program. Coach Cal’s a great coach, a legendary coach. And it seems like he gets the best out of the guys and puts them in the right position to excel.”

UK is one of the main players in Vanderbilt’s recruitment, but he’s far from making a college decision.

Coach Cal’s a great coach, a legendary coach. And it seems like he gets the best out of the guys and puts them in the right position to excel.

Jarred Vanderbilt

He also listed Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Florida State and Duke as programs in play, and there are even more pursuing him. He doesn’t plan to narrow his list of schools until he’s finished with AAU ball next season.

Robert Vanderbilt said the feedback from Calipari has “all been positive” and excitedly noted that Victory Prep will be back in Kentucky in a few weeks for the Mustang Madness event in McCracken County on Jan. 7-10.

“We love Kentucky,” he said. “Everybody has been great. We appreciate the love and support.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

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