LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball got some potentially bad news Tuesday when freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who quickly established himself as one of the best rebounders in the country in 14 games since returning from a foot injury, suffered another unspecified injury in practice.
“Jarred Vanderbilt was injured in practice yesterday,” a team spokesman confirmed Wednesday morning. “He is not expected to practice today but is day-to-day for the SEC Tournament.”
Vanderbilt injured his left foot twice in high school and then again on the eve of UK’s first official practice in late September. He missed the Cats’ first 17 games and then wasted no time making a major impact upon his return on Jan. 16.
He has averaged 13.8 points and a staggering 18.5 rebounds per 40 minutes for Kentucky (21-10, 10-8), which opens SEC Tournament play as the No. 4 seed on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET in St. Louis. As his conditioning improved, Vanderbilt’s role has grown; he’s averaged 21.6 minutes over the last seven games.
If he’d played enough to qualify, his offensive rebound percentage (22.4) and total rebound percentage (25.4) — estimated percentages of how many available rebounds he snags when on the floor — would both rank No. 1 nationally.
Should Vanderbilt’s injury turn out to be significant, it’s a huge blow for UK — and for him. The Wildcats have outscored opponents by 45 points over the last five games when he’s on the court. In UK’s loss at Florida to end the regular season, when he found foul trouble in both halves, the Cats were plus-2 with him and minus-15 points without.
The news could be even worse for Vanderbilt, a former McDonald’s All-American who before his September injury was getting some 2018 NBA lottery pick buzz and most recently — because of injury concerns and offensive limitations — was ranked the 57th-best prospect in the upcoming draft by ESPN.
An 18-year-old big man (Vanderbilt is listed at 6-foot-9, 214 pounds) with chronic foot problems will send up serious red flags to NBA general managers.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.