By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt on Senior Night Tuesday and if I was coach John Calipari I would not play freshman guard De’Aaron Fox.
It has nothing to do with seniors Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis and Mychal Mulder even if a missing Fox would provide more minutes for both Hawkins and Mulder.
No, I wouldn’t risk playing Fox to give him a few more days to hopefully get back to near 100 percent health-wise before the Southeastern Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
Fox has had a sprained ankle. He has had the flu. Now he’s got a knee bruise that kept him out of Saturday’s win over Florida.
Fox admitted about 10 days ago that he was not back to 100 percent when UK got thrashed at Florida and that he was still trying to “to get back in my groove.”
That was before he injured his knee last week at Missouri. He did not practice Thursday or Friday. He tried to warm up before Saturday’s game with Florida but came back out in street clothes to watch the game from the UK bench.
Fox has acknowledged that the ankle injury and illness did throw him off. He hurt his ankle during the South Carolina game and then missed UK’s home win over Georgia when he was sick.
“At least it happened at the same time and hasn’t been spread out throughout the season,” Fox said before the Missouri game.
He said the flu and ankle took a toll on his quickness.
“Just a little bit, but not too much. Not too much. It just happens when everyone gets hurt or gets sick. The physical aspect of their game goes down a little bit, but you build it back up. I haven’t been turning the ball over too much. I’m hitting my free throws, getting to the line. I just feel like I’m getting back to where I was,” Fox said before UK played at Missouri.
Calipari liked what he saw from UK’s perimeter defense against Florida without Fox when UK did a much better job playing the pick-and-roll.
“I like the fact that we fought and I said, and for De’Aaron Fox, ‘Hey, man, when you come back, you better be to the level of these guys fighting. That’s where you need to be,’” Calipari said after the win Saturday. “If he had played he would have been 70 percent. So what I’m saying is, I knew that. I really wanted us to play the game without him.
“For us and for him. And now it’s like, okay, but we made runs in the middle of the game with Isaiah (Briscoe) on the bench. He wasn’t in. And so that’s good for this team to know, you could have foul trouble, you could have an injury, something could happen, you can still win if you’re playing the right way. If you’re creating good shots for each other.
“If you’re defending and rebounding like crazy, flying to get easy baskets, if it’s not there, I will be patient. If it takes me the whole shot clock to get a shot, I will. We’re getting closer. But when you’re playing all freshmen and sophomores, it’s — thank goodness for Dom and Derek and thank goodness for Mychal, Mychal’s playing better.”
So why not let Fox rest, heal and watch another game and give Hawkins, Mulder and Willis a chance to show a younger player on Senior Night how to play to get ready for postseason play.