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Recovering from foot injury, Vanderbilt not surprised by Kentucky’s early team chemistry

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By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Jarred Vanderbilt couldn’t wait to get to Kentucky to meet his new teammates.

“I’m glad that they let us come during the summer,” Vanderbilt said. “You know just to get our feet wet. Experience a little bit in the college world and maybe it is good having a little advantage.”

Jarred Vanderbilt will miss the first three months of the season as he recovers from a foot injury. Vanderbilt is expected to return in January. (UK Athletics Photo)

Although he knew most of the newcomers before arriving on campus, Vanderbilt was surprised the team bounded so quickly, a group that came in as one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the country.

“You know we all know each other prior to come here,” he said. “Like I pretty much knew every one of these guys, but just to be able to hang out with him every day (and) just having a feel for them and playing with them against them, you know what they’d like you know how they want the ball the stuff — just small things that could really help down the line. So. I’m just glad that we get to come here and you know just be prepared.

“Getting a feel for these guys and just being able to to hang out and have team chemistry, I think that’s really helped. Team chemistry goes a long way in this and this is a heck of a team. I’m just grateful to be here. It was just a great summer.”

Before injuring his foot that will require surgery earlier this month, Vanderbilt was on track to be one of the top contributors on the team this season. The freshman forward will miss the next three months and isn’t expected to return until January.

“I don’t think anybody gets to practice against the amount of length and talent that we do, all on one team,” he said last month. “Just being able to go against each other every day, just making each other better and just knowing you can’t slack, because you have some other guy that’s coming for you to let you know that next day. It makes you work hard and compete every day.”

Vanderbilt said the preseason workouts helped “elevate my game a lot.”

“Going against guys like P.J., Wenyen and Hamidou every day, you know, just brings the best out of you, makes you work and makes you compete,” he said. “It helps you stay on your guard, because you don’t want to get outworked. The day you stop working, somebody else is working. It just makes you want to keep playing hard.”

Once he returns to practice, Vanderbilt will continue to battle for playing time despite missing the previous 12 weeks.

“I don’t necessarily know my role yet,” he said. “But, I know what I can bring, having a (good) motor and playing hard, being versatile and doing what I do best. I want to be a playmaker, rebound and basically do everything that the team needs to win. I’m willing to do that.”

While recovering, Vanderbilt likely will improve his juggling skills, a talent he learned on his own as a youngster.

“One day I saw somebody juggling, so I was just in my room, like in my room for two weeks straight just trying to juggle,” he said. “It helps with eye-hand coordination, reaction and everything. It helps me relax.”

As he prepares for surgery and the road to recovery, Vanderbilt will be cheering for his new teammates on and off the court.

“As a group we just want to be the best we can,” he said. “You know, taking every game by game. We have goals and each day we try to reach those goals — individual goals and every day goals (and that is to) get better. Be better today than we were yesterday, individually and as a group.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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