Eloy Vargas knows trying out for the Dominican Republic national team is an honor, but he understands it is an even bigger opportunity to prepare himself for his second and final season at Kentucky because UK coach John Calipari will be coaching the Dominican team.
“It will be really good for me now that I¿am kind of used to him (Calipari). I will get ahead of everybody else. Last year everybody else went to Canada (for exhibition games) and I was kind of behind (because I was still in summer school). I think this year I¿will be ahead of all the other people because of the Dominican team,” said Vargas, a seldom-used backup center last season.
Vargas expects Calipari to be harder on him than any other player during the tryouts at UK¿and possible international competition if he makes the team.
“I think he probably will be harder on me because I will be practicing with a bunch of NBA guys, but it will help me to have him pushing me,” Vargas said.
The UK senior knows coaching him may have influenced Calipari when he was approached about coaching this team in August and September.
“It could be. He can do anything during this time and work me out and make me better,” Vargas said. “My goal is to travel with the team and represent my country, but I know Coach won’t give me a spot if I don’t earn it.”
Calipari laughed when asked about Vargas’ chances to make the team.
“Probably a good chance he will make that team. Kind of like my son Brad playing for me. There’s a good chance he will be on that floor. Maybe playing a 2-3 zone, but he will be on the floor,” Calipari said. “It’s just like some of our other guys. He has a chance to do well. To play this year, he has that opportunity but he has to perform and bring it. If not, there are not my turns in our program. Never have been. He and Jon (Hood) and Stacy (Poole), guys that didn’t play as much a year ago, are going to have opportunities.”
Vargas got a head start on the international play earlier this summer when he was on a Sports Reach all-star team that played exhibition games in China. He led the team in rebounding and was also an effective scorer. A year ago, Josh Harrellson went on a similar trip and then blossomed into a productive starter on UK’s Final Four team after playing no more as a junior than Vargas did last season.
“It gave me a lot of confidence playing like I want to play. I know if I can play like that way over there, then I can play like that over here,” Vargas said. “I think it helped me a lot getting my comfort back for basketball after not playing much last season. It was really valuable for me to get to come out and try to play my game. I have a lot more confidence in myself now because I played really good over there.
“I hope I will do the same as Josh. Right now I¿am working out really hard so I can prove myself when the season starts. I did talk to Josh about my future and how to be successful and he told me just not to think about anything but being successful.”
He says the trip to China was good for other reasons, too.
“It was kind of weird sometimes, like the language, the food and the people because I don’t know the language. And all we had was rice and chicken for two weeks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, it was rice and chicken,” Vargas said.
Vargas played in 38 games last year, but averaged only 1.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 7.7 minutes per game and took just 43 shots. He did block 23 shots, or one each 12 minutes he played.
Senior teammate Darius Miller says the Wildcats are expecting much more from Vargas this season.
“We expect a lot from him. The only thing he has to do is keep working. He has been working really hard,” Miller said. “Actually everybody has picked up their intensity and I think that’s because of the Final Four run and how close we were to winning the national championship.
“He just needs to continue like he is doing. He has improved and we expect a lot of that to continue. He is playing more aggressive, playing tougher and seems more comfortable.”
Miller says while Harrellson could be a good role model for Vargas, he’s also a good role model for every returning player.
“I think everybody can really benefit from seeing what Josh did. He wasn’t talked about much going into last year, but by the end of the year everybody was talking about him. Maybe that can be Eloy this year,” Miller said.
Vargas could benefit from playing daily against freshman Anthony Davis, who some have speculated could be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, like Harrellson did from battling Enes Kanter daily last season.
“Me and Anthony are working out, and he is pretty good,” Vargas said. “He is way thinner than me, but he can play. He really impressed me in pickup games. He can jump high and block shots. He has, like, 7-5 wingspan and he’s going to block a lot of shots.”