By LARRY VAUGHT
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Before Kentucky played South Carolina here Tuesday night, freshman Jarred Vanderbilt gave coach John Calipari the news he had been waiting to hear.
“He told me prior to the game (that he could play),” Calipari said after UK’s 76-68 loss. “He was pretty good for the first time out. He’s trying to figure out what we’re doing. We really haven’t scrimmaged with him in. We’ve done some half-court stuff. I thought he was pretty good for the first time out.”
The 6-9 Vanderbilt, a McDonald’s All-American who had not played all season because of a leg injury, made two of five shots and scored six points, including one goal in the final four minutes when UK was desperate to find anyone who could make a shot.
He had five rebounds, three assists and two turnovers in 14 minutes played.
He showcased his versatility. He played point guard at times because of UK’s foul trouble and several times snatched a rebound and took off with the ball leading the fast break. He had at least three pinpoint passes that would have gone for assists if teammates had finished plays.
No one else knew he was going to play when he checked into the game with 13:08 to go in the first half with South Carolina leading 19-12. He missed a shot, made a turnover, grabbed a defensive rebound, missed two foul shots and had a foul in his first 77 seconds.
Fans had been speculating whether he would or would not play this season. Calipari had seemed to grow weary of the waiting process but Monday assistant coach Kenny Payne said Vanderbilt wanted to play and was close to being ready. Tuesday he showed he would and with point guard Quade Green out with a back injury for the third straight game and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in foul trouble, Vanderbilt had to spend some time at point guard.
“Jarred’s a great ball-handler. He has a good feel for the game, good passing skills so he can definitely help us handling the ball sometimes,” UK teammate Kevin Knox said. “We get Quade (Green) back soon and when Shai was in foul trouble, we needed another point guard, Jarred stepped up.
“I thought he did a good job and it was his first game back, so once gets the feel for it and gets the plays down it could be another great addition to the team.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said he saw Vanderbilt play often in high school, so he knew how good he was.
“You saw a lot of his abilities today,” Martin said. “If you guard him with a big, he goes by off the bounce. He’s going to be another great addition for their team.”