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UK Basketball: You’re going to like Jarred Vanderbilt a lot, BBN

In just 14 minutes, Jarred Vanderbilt showed why he can change the whole complexity of this year’s ‘Cats.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at South Carolina
Jarred Vanderbilt was one of two ‘Cats with a positive plus-minus in Tuesday’s loss at South Carolina.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it was excitement or sheer belief that this could happen, I tweeted out that Jarred Vanderbilt could make a run at a “5x5 game” for Kentucky during what one would assume his lone season in Lexington.

Note: a “5x5 game” is when a player has at least five in five different statistical categories (5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 5 blocks ... you get the idea now, right?)

Although Kentucky suffered another conference loss on the road before their showdown with Florida with College GameDay in the house this coming Saturday (and Zion Williamson’s college decision), the ‘Cats received a long-term jolt in the arm in the form of Vanderbilt’s return.

In 14 minutes of action, Vanderbilt looked like a true freshman that’s been dying to get on the floor for some real in-game minutes. He had a couple poor shot attempts, but showed a few flashes of his potential with this long and athletic Kentucky roster throughout the night.

Vanderbilt finished his college debut with six points, five rebounds, three assists and a block, while finishing with a +7 in the plus-minus category. He missed some free throws. He had a couple turnovers.

But, for a kid that’s hardly see actual game action/simulations, he looked great. (Kentucky head coach John Calipari noted during his post-game presser that Vanderbilt’s work in scrimmaging has been mostly in the half-court.)

Vanderbilt is going to be one of Kentucky’s best rebounders and for good reason

This play won’t be remembered by anyone, but it shows why Vanderbilt is going to be such an important piece for Kentucky.

Vanderbilt mixes it up for the rebound, grabs the ball and looks to push the pace back up the floor. He gets fouled with Hamidou Diallo out in front, but what this showed me is that the ‘Cats better be ready to run next to Vanderbilt because “Point Vanderbilt” is going to be a thing at times this season (even when Quade Green returns from a back issues).

One of Vanderbilt’s best plays of the entire night came on another rebound later in the game that made me blink repeatedly and ask myself out loud, “How did he even get to that ball?”

These kinds of plays happen when you’re fresher than anyone else on the court for either team, but ask anyone who has watched Vanderbilt in more than just YouTube mixtapes and last night and they’ll tell you how good of a rebounder he is.

Vanderbilt is already Kentucky’s best passer

Kentucky had just seven assists as a team in their loss at South Carolina. Vanderbilt had three of them, including the best one of the night with a shade under four minutes left in the opening half.

The funny thing is he actually had one stellar pass out to Brad Calipari before the one that got him the assist in the box score to Sacha Killeya-Jones.

(Note: Kevin Knox did a heck of a job grabbing the offensive rebound and dishing the ball off to Vanderbilt, who made the extra pass.)

Vanderbilt got a bit lucky on this transition pass, but he made a good effort to catch the pass from Knox before he dished it back to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the layup.

What to look for moving forward with Vanderbilt playing more minutes

Now that Vanderbilt has been worked into Calipari’s rotation, he can start moving towards the player he was prior to the foot surgery and time away from game action.

He’s not a strong perimeter shooter, but he’s a high-IQ player that can really open up some things for the ‘Cats offensively. He can post up, he can run the floor and he can be used a primary ball-handler in situations like Tuesday.

With his passing and rebounding, Kentucky can really push the tempo at times and let their athletes roam freely with Vanderbilt leading the charge and looking for open guys in transition. That’s when Calipari’s teams are at their best and that’s when this team can be at their best, too.

Also, with his size at virtually 6-foot-9, his length is going to be disruptive defensively.

Quade Green is close to coming back from some minor back issues (and could be back Saturday against the Gators) and Gilgeous-Alexander will have some down moments like he did against the Gamecocks, so unlocking Vanderbilt’s full potential includes letting him run the show sometimes.

Obviously he needs some time with some real-time action to up his endurance and stamina, but he’s a needed piece for Kentucky and that was clear in short spurts on Tuesday.