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Jarred Vanderbilt said he was healthy, then Kentucky said he'd have surgery and miss three months, then John Calipari said maybe no surgery, then Calipari said he could sit out this whole season. So which is it?

Kentucky Basketball: Handicapping whether Jarred Vanderbilt will play for the Cats this season

Kyle Tucker

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John Calipari has officially confused his fan base. Last week at the Kentucky basketball team media day in Lexington, he expressed some hope that 5-star freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt won’t need surgery on his oft-injured left foot and perhaps he’d return sooner than the January prognosis the school announced on Sept. 30.

Then on Wednesday at SEC Media Day in Nashville, Calipari said this to Jeff Borzello of ESPN: “If he’s not 100 percent, he won’t play. If he can’t get ready this year, then he won’t play this year. Well Coach, what if that costs you games?’ Well, then it costs us games. His health and his well-being goes before anything else, including our basketball team. I hope we get him back — for him, so he can play.

“But again, even if he doesn’t play this year, [I told him] this is hurting us more than it’s hurting you.”

It is no surprise, then, that when I solicited the burning Kentucky basketball question of the day from fans on Twitter, three people responded with Vanderbilt questions.

In order, from TG, Jackson and Lisa: Can UK go all the way without JVando? Will JVando play this season [and] if not, will he return? How optimistic is Cal that Vanderbilt plays this season?

So here goes: I don’t think Kentucky can win a national title without Vanderbilt, because when healthy he is arguably the team’s best player and inarguably its most versatile. He’s an excellent defender and skilled enough — as Calipari recently pointed out — to be a 6-foot-9 point guard.

Until I hear otherwise, I believe Vanderbilt will play for Kentucky before the end of this season. It’s a little odd that there is so much mystery still surrounding this injury (in the same foot he had problems with in high school), but I’ve yet to hear anyone around the program express sincere worry that he won’t at least be ready by the postseason.

As for Cal’s optimism — and latest comment, which cast the most doubt on whether he’ll play this season — I have a (decently informed) hunch that his comment was more a veiled dig at Mike Krzyzewski and Duke over its handling of 5-star Harry Giles and his injury last season. Some would argue Giles was rushed back to play for the Blue Devils and now he’s been shelved by the NBA’s Sacramento Kings because he isn’t healthy.

Which leads us to the second part of Jackson’s question: If Vanderbilt doesn’t play for UK this season, might he come back to play for the Cats once he’s healthy next year? That’s very hard to say. My initial reaction would be yes, because he’d need to prove he could make it through a full season healthy and play well — but then again, do you risk another injury that would pretty well obliterate your draft stock? That I can’t answer yet.