It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt, who is tied with Duke’s Gary Trent Jr. for 12th in the RSCI class rankings.
What he means for Kentucky’s recruiting class
Vanderbilt’s addition doesn’t feel as important now as it did when he announced his commitment to Kentucky last December. At that point, the Wildcats had already assembled much of their standout class (point guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, power forward P.J. Washington and center Nick Richards had already signed) and they would go on to add another forward who can play both the three and the four with a higher ranking than Vanderbilt: Kevin Knox. Both players will help Kentucky win a lot of games this season, but the Wildcats would have had one of the nation’s top hauls with only one of them.
How he fits
All of Kentucky’s main contributors left school this spring. (The only returning player who averaged more than seven minutes per game is sophomore power forward Wenyen Gabriel.) The Wildcats will lean on a group of youngsters to fill out their rotation, and they’ll have a deep, talented group to work with. Vanderbilt should vie for minutes at both forward spots, but he’ll face competition from Gabriel, Knox and Washington, and there’s a chance he’ll start the season coming off the bench. Although Vanderbilt is not an effective perimeter shooter, he’ll provide value as a multi-positional defender, rebounder and transition playmaker, and his versatility will facilitate lineup creativity.
A quick glance at Kentucky’s recruiting class may give off the impression that the Wildcats are a safe bet to win another 30 games and earn a top-three NCAA tournament seed. That could happen, but during John Calipari’s stint at the helm of the Wildcats, they’ve been most successful when veterans are around to complement the hot-shot freshmen. That won’t be the case in 2017–18. The newbies may be so good that the dearth of returning production won’t matter. Or perhaps Kentucky will take its lumps while jelling during the regular season before ripping off a deep tourney run. There is a wide range of possible outcomes.