Jarred Vanderbilt is the youngest of six children, and basketball runs in his family. His mother and father and two of his siblings played in college.
He started playing the game at 3 and his first organized game was at 5.
“Almost every generation has played basketball in my family,” the Kentucky signee said. “From my siblings to my father and grandfather, it was just instilled in me at an early age.
“It’s very competitive (when we played), but that’s where it all started. That’s where I get the drive and passion that I have now.”
That drive and passion has taken the 6-9 forward to a ranking among the top 20 players in the Class of 2017 and to a spot in the McDonald’s All American Game.
Vanderbilt received his honorary jersey Thursday when the McDonald’s Hometown Heroes presented by American Family Insurance came to high school, Victory Rock Prep, in Houston.
“I think it’s finally sinking in — I’m really an All-American,” he said. “It really hit me after saying the speech and having the ceremony. …
“I think the event turned out great. It was a great experience. I’m thankful for everybody that came out. I’m blessed. I need to thank God for the opportunity and the talent as well. It’s a true honor to be part of this game. It’s been a goal ever since I picked up a basketball. I’m just grateful.”
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Vanderbilt will go to Kentucky, which has been home to a long line of McDonald’s All Americans. That group will include three other future Wildcats, all of whom are playing for the East in the March 29 showcase in Chicago: P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards.
“I’m pretty watch every Kentucky game to see how the games go and how the season is going,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. I talked to some of the guys (on the current team) already. Just because you’re a McDonalds All American nothing is going to be given to you. Guys are going to come at you every night. You’re a target now. I take that under consideration and I’m just preparing because I’m ready for the next level.”
But he is also savoring the opportunity to play with an elite group of high school talent whom he has faced and played with in AAU and other events for years.
“I’m excited about competing and playing against the best players in the country,” he said. “All of us have been playing together since middle school. I think around seventh or eighth grade, we realized that we could become McDonald’s All Americans. To see all of us achieve that goal is a great feeling.”
And once a McDonald’s All American, always a McDonald’s All American.
“It sticks with you for the rest of your life to be known as a McDonald’s All American,” Vanderbilt said. “That’s why it’s such a great honor. That’s why I have to give gratitude to everyone who played a role in this.”