Kentucky’s Forgotten Man: Eloy Vargas

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2011

The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats are the media darlings of the SEC and perhaps the entire country. There are already countless stories about the talents of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. There are plenty of anecdotes about the leadership of senior Darius Miller. The media likes to talk about the pressure on Marquis Teague to follow in the footsteps of the lineage of great point guards who have played before him in John Calipari’s system. There is even a documentary on HBO focusing on the life of a Kentucky freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But you probably won’t find another story about the importance of Eloy Vargas’ impact on the Kentucky Wildcats. Until now.

Eloy Vargas could be called upon to do significantly more for the Wildcats this year

The media overlooks Vargas because it is easy to do. But Kentucky fans don’t forget him. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Throughout most of his playing career, Kentucky fans wish they could forget about Vargas.

Like any UK basketball player, Vargas is a household name. But Vargas has a very different connotation in Kentucky. There are certain words that people say and everyone understands the meaning. These are words such as:

  • Gitchiesomenoun \git\chee\sum\
  1. to order someone to grab a particular item

Go on over there and gitchiesome more mashed potatoes.

  • Mayonnaisenoun \man\aze\
  1. a dressing made chiefly of egg yolks, vegetable oils, and vinegar or lemon juice
  2. to refer to a situation in amazement

Mayonnaise a lot of people here today.

  • Vargasverb \Var\ges\
  1. to describe someone who acts carelessly
  2. to describe when someone makes a colossal mistake
  3. used to express sudden recognition of a foolish blunder

Synonyms: DOH, mishandle, bobble, fumble, flub, spoil

I really screwed up the other day, and made a huge Vargas. Oh VARGAS!

Vargas’ name is more synonymous with a cuss word than a quality player on a team full of future NBA players. He hasn’t made the type of impact on the Kentucky Wildcats that many had hoped, but Kentucky fans have seen this scenario play out before. In 2009-10, a junior big man by the name of Josh Harrellson averaged 1.3 PPG and 1.2 RPG on his way to four minutes a night behind freshman DeMarcus Cousins. After working hard in the offseason, Harrellson was key in the middle for the Cats as they made a run to the Final Four in large part because of his play down low. He upped his averages to over 28 MPG with 7.6 PPG and 8.7 RPG including several huge games in the NCAA Tournament against quality big men such as Jared Sullinger. Not many people expected much from the 6’10” big man coming into last season, but his hard work and determination turned him into the 45th pick in the NBA Draft.

So is it crazy to think that Eloy Vargas could do the same? In limited minutes off the bench last year, Vargas averaged 1.5 PPG and 2.0 RPG for the Cats. This season, he is likely to see significant minutes as Kentucky finds themselves quite thin in the true center category. Anthony Davis will likely start at the five position, however, the 6’10” freshman with guard skills is still working on his strength and learning to play with his back to the basket.  And although those close to the program are raving over freshman Kyle Wiltjer’s abilities, he prefers firing shots from long range over banging down low. Neither Wiltjer or Davis are typical centers, which opens up the door for Vargas to find more minutes at the five spot. When Davis needs a breather or finds himself in foul trouble, Vargas is likely to be the first player off the bench.  CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweeted from UK’s practice last week saying, “Saw spurts from Eloy Vargas when I was in Lexington. Looks like UK’s 8th man.” And Calipari praised Vargas for changing his practice habits, saying he has been, “coming in early in the morning and late at night.” All signs are pointing to Vargas being a new and improved version this year in Lexington.

Kentucky fans are notorious for their lofty expectations. They want to be in the National Championship or Final Four hunt each and every year while in the discussion for all of the top recruits coming out of high school. But this time, Kentucky fans aren’t asking for much. With Vargas, they just want quality minutes with solid defense and to box out his opponents for rebounds. Big Blue Nation doesn’t need Vargas to be the 2011-12 version of the Unforgettables. Kentucky fans just need Vargas to be a little more memorable for the right reasons, sorta like how Harrellson went from joke on the bench to key cog in a Final Four lineup.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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2 responses to “Kentucky’s Forgotten Man: Eloy Vargas”

  1. kdh2011 says:

    Seriously. We UK fans have pretty much written off Vargas on offense. All we ask is that he play decent post defense and grab an acceptable percentage of defensive rebounds. On offense, shudder. He has terrible hands and always brings the ball down low, in violation of the instructions of every 3rd grade basketball coach in America. If he only turns the ball over half the time he touches it, we’ll be happy with him.

  2. bjoyce says:

    Exactly… If Vargas scores, then that is icing on the cake. There are too many other guys on the roster who can pour in the points. In the blue/white game the other night, he did exactly what you said — bringing the ball down before going up and he got blocked almost every single time. Sounds like he’s getting up and down the floor a lot quicker this year. Better conditioning was a big part of Harrellson’s success a year ago. Vargas would add so much to this team by doing the things you indicate — better post defense and grab some rebounds. Maybe… just maybe… he’s ready to do that.

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