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Final chapter still unwritten for Vargas

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Eloy Vargas will be honored as part of Senior Night on Thursday against Georgia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Eloy Vargas will be honored as part of Senior Night on Thursday against Georgia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Eloy Vargas saw himself doing big things when he first came to Kentucky.

He arrived in Lexington as a junior college All-American at Miami-Dade College, where he averaged 21.1 points and 14.1 rebounds in his lone season. With five first round draft picks departing UK's 2009-10 Elite Eight team, Vargas thought he could step in.

"My head was kind of big when I got here because everybody left," Vargas said.

As the Moca, Dominican Republic native prepares to suit up for his final game as a Wildcat on Thursday against Georgia, things haven't quite worked out that way. Instead, Vargas has spent his time as a reserve on a Final Four team and now the nation's No. 1 squad.

The "big-headed" Vargas from two years ago might have had a problem with that, but the Vargas who will be honored on Senior Night is more than happy to have won 57 of his 67 games at UK.

"I'm good because every time we win, everybody wins," Vargas said. "It's Kentucky and this is a family. It's not about self, it's about us."

Make no mistake though; Vargas hasn't stopped believing he has more to offer.

Sure, Thursday night's festivities will be somewhat of a farewell for him and his fellow senior, Darius Miller, but there's plenty of time left for Vargas to make the kind of impact he thought he would when he got here.

"This is where the fun begins now," Vargas said. "You don't know what's going to happen. This is going to be a long season. We've got like five more weeks left and you don't know what can happen. Somebody can get in foul trouble and I can maybe come out and do the right thing and make a play for the team and we can come out with a win."

For just that reason, Vargas hasn't quit working. In fact, he's working harder than ever.

Late on Tuesday night, John Calipari received a phone call from a basketball staff member about one of his players. Even though this year's team has largely stayed out of trouble, those kinds of late night calls aren't ones a head coach wants to receive.

This one was different.

"Last night at 11:20, I get a call, 'Eloy Vargas is on the treadmill,'" Calipari said.

To borrow a phrase Calipari often likes to use, Vargas is happy he's on a team that has won 20 games in a row, but he's not satisfied playing under seven minutes a game.

"He's waiting for his opportunity," Calipari said. "That's hard now. It'd be easy to be out there playing. It's hard when you're standing their waiting for your opportunity working hard every day."

Vargas largely credits that work ethic to the time he has spent at Kentucky.

"Being in front of Coach Cal, teaching me how to be a better player and a better person, and me pushing myself like before I came over here," Vargas said. "I rarely saw how hard you had to work to be on the court, so I think I've learned a lot from being here and being a part of this program."

Since he's behind a favorite for national player of the year in Anthony Davis, some NBA scouts have asked Calipari whether Vargas is the next Josh Harrellson. Calipari invoked another name.

"Swen Nater played behind (Bill) Walton (at UCLA), all of a sudden has an 11-year career," Calipari said.

Neither Vargas nor Davis (nor I, at least not before a Google search) is likely familiar with that name, but Calipari's point stands. An NBA future may or may not be in the cards, but Calipari believes Vargas will have his chance to play professionally if he wants it.

"What I say is you got a 6-10, 6-11 player who can rebound and run the court and is more skilled than you think," Calipari said. "You look in the NBA, how many big guys are there? They got 30 teams. You look at all these teams in Europe. If he chooses to do this, he'll continue to play."

Vargas is certainly going to pursue that, but beyond basketball, he wants to use the degree in community communications to possibly open up a recreation center for children.

For now, Vargas is thinking about being in the starting lineup for the first time time.

"I never heard of that, but I think it's going to feel great starting for the first time, especially in Rupp Arena," Vargas said.

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