With a win over Cincinnati on Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats not only improved to a (still) perfect 36-0 record on the year, but also advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.
On their continued run to eternal greatness, there's no doubt that this year's squad can certainly draw some inspiration from the 2011-12 crew that went on to win the national title as well.
Not only did that team win a championship, they've also had a slew of its members go on to reach The Association. Of course, there is Anthony Davis, but furthermore, the likes of Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Darius Miller played for the Pelicans before heading overseas, and both Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague are NBA alums who are currently strutting their stuff in the D-League.
And then there's Eloy Vargas, the former NBA Summer Leaguer who is playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Despite missing some time to injury, the big man is still having an impressive season, nonetheless. In his first minor league campaign, Vargas is averaging 8.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. To boot, he's shooting 49% from the field.
Stepping somewhat more into the spotlight for the Lakers' NBADL affiliate, Vargas was considered a role player of sorts while at Kentucky. Still, the time he spent playing alongside a handful of (then) soon-to-be key contributors in the NBA proved to be valuable.
"I was a role player, so I was playing behind Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. Playing at Kentucky was a great experience for me, and the things I learned from Coach [John] Calipari helped me become who I am right now," he told RidiculousUpside.com in a recent conversation. "It helped me a lot. When you're teammates with guys like that, it means you go up against them everyday in practice. That's a big part of what made me the player I am today."
After experiencing such success at the school himself, Vargas still manages to keep close tabs on this year's team, one that features likely NBA Draft lottery picks Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, during their respective run.
"Obviously our team won the national championship in 2012, but this year's team is one of the best defensive teams in the country," he added.
What's more, Vargas looks back at his time with the school rather fondly. The community welcomed him with open arms, even treating a lesser known player like himself as a local celebrity.
"The culture in Kentucky is different, because they don't have a professional [sports] team. In Kentucky, all you have is basically the derby and basketball. Everywhere you go, everyone knows you and likes to say hi. That's the way it is," the 26 year old said. "Everyone treats you like you're the man. They recognize you and are big fans. Everyone is asking you for autographs. Even if a guy comes in and doesn't play much, they're still someone that everyone knows."
And as he continues making his own mark on the professional level, Vargas is enjoying his time in Los Angeles, too. His comfort level appears to be at a high. "Everything is great. The staff has been working with me and I've just been able to play my game," he concluded. "I'm playing a very similar role to the one I played at Kentucky. I'm the guy who rebounds, plays good defense, and mans the post. I know we aren't getting a lot of wins, but we're doing everything we can to play hard and improve."