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By LARRY VAUGHT

Eloy Vargas is realistic about what his role for No. 3 Kentucky has to be.

“I just try to go as hard as I can for as long as I can when I do get into a game,” said the senior backup center. “That is what I do. When Coach (John Calipari) calls my name, I just go in and play hard. Like at Indiana when we were in foul trouble, I just tried to play my best. I have to keep pushing.

“I have to be rough and tough. That is my role on this team. I have to be tougher in my role than what I have been so far, too. I have to dive for balls, bang on people, get rebounds, keep everyone out of the middle. I know my job.”

Teammate Marquis Teague appreciates what Vargas is doing when he replaces either Anthony Davis or Terrence Jones.

“He can help us by just coming in and being a tough player for us. Being physical, blocking shots and rebounding the ball. If people come into the lane, foul them hard and send them to the free throw line. Just come in and play tough, that’s what coach Cal wants him to do and be a tough player on the court,” Teague, a freshman point guard, said.

“He is doing well. He is finishing at the rim. He is more energized. It starts in practice because he comes in the gym early, works hard and gets his conditioning in and it is paying off. It takes a lot of pressure off Anthony and Terrence if he can play well and gives them a chance to get rest and they don’t have to do as much because he can come off the bench and give us some good minutes like he has been.”

Vargas is averaging 1.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 9.2 minutes per game. He’s 8-for-19 from the field and does have seven blocked shots.

He had seven rebounds in only 17 minutes in a win over Samford last week and has convinced Calipari he’s going to eventually play a big role for the Cats.

“He’s getting better. Again, the hardest thing for a guy like Eloy is can you wait for your opportunity?” Calipari said. “I was coaching UMass in 1996, and who did we play in the Final Four? We played Kentucky. I played a kid that didn’t play all year. He played well in that game, if you remember. Edgar Padilla’s brother who did not play all season. CBS-TV analyst Billy Packer in that game said he’s putting in Edgar Padilla.  Edgar Padilla’s stats — oh, my, this kid doesn’t have any stats. He has no stats, and the kid went bonkers. From that game, he got a contract to play in South America.  He played one game on that stage.

“Eloy Vargas is going to have his opportunities. Can he stay focused so when they come he’s ready to go and he’s ready to prove that he should be playing more? The other side of it, and I’m not saying he’s doing this, but the guy pouts, or he should be this, or you start making excuses or you’re embarrassed. Then when your opportunity comes, you’re going to blame somebody because you’re going to drop the ball, and it’s going to be someone else’s fault.

“What Eloy’s doing is he’s biding his time and he’s waiting. I just want him to do well. By the end of the year, he’s one of those guys when we go to him, he physically can play. There are going to be games where Kyle (Wiltjer) cannot be in there because of who he has to guard against. Who he has going to have to guard, and Eloy can. That’s what’s good about our team.”

Vargas says offseason conditioning helped him, especially losing weight that made him quicker and more aggressive. So did playing for the Dominican Republic national team.

“Just going harder in practice has helped build my confidence, too,” Vargas said. “I don’t get many chances to play, but I have to take advantage of what I get. When I go in there, I have to play my hardest and do my best to do something for the team.

“I just try to get the ball from everybody I see and I am concentrating on getting two hands on the ball like Coach ask me to do and didn’t do last year very much. I worked on it this year so I could be on the court more and help the team.”

He says going against Enes Kanter, Josh Harrellson, Davis and Jones the last two years has made him improve.

“It’s really good this year because I go the whole practice. Last year I would have little breaks and that’s probably why I did not develop as much as I should have,” Vargas admitted. “I get in more conditioning this year. I work hard. I never come out of practice, and it shows. I try to prove myself and get better every day and push myself. I know I have not done my best yet.

“Coach is telling me I will get my time to shine. I am thinking about the future because some people will be in foul trouble, be hurt or not be tough enough and this is how you will come out for a big game. My chance will come. I just have to be ready for it.”

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