Kenny Payne can still hear Jarred Vanderbilt's scream.

Vanderbilt, a freshman at Kentucky while Payne was an assistant coach, let out a shriek of anger, bewilderment and pain after landing awkwardly in practice on a surgically repaired left foot.

A screw, inserted to keep Vanderbilt's foot stable and allow him to play basketball after missing most of his junior and senior years of high school basketball, had broken.

Vanderbilt, in tears, hobbled as fast as he could into the locker room. After a few moments, an athletic trainer approached Payne.

"He came out and said, 'Kenny, you got to go in there,' " Payne said. "He's devastated."

Vanderbilt feared the worst.

"I thought it was over," Vanderbilt said. "I was never going to be the same."

He had been there before. He had injured his foot in his junior year of high school, let it rest and thought it was healed, only to injure it again senior year and then again that day in Kentucky. There was a lot of doubt, and it took for Vanderbilt to not get down.

"Like everybody in any sport is going to come to some type of injury and you just stay positive," said Vanderbilt's mom, Gwen Vanderbilt. "He always stayed positive."

Staying positive wasn't always easy.

Years later, Jarred Vanderbilt has been a revelation for the Timberwolves. After forcing his way into a regular role last season, his game has grown to the point the 6-8 forward is now a staple of an NBA starting lineup, something that seemed improbable that day in Kentucky.

His tenacity to get any rebound he gets near inspires the Wolves, coach Chris Finch has said. Vanderbilt is often on the floor, diving after a loose ball or a board with a passion born out of a fear that he may never have an NBA career.

And he's not about to let it go.

"That's one of the reasons why I play as hard as I do," Vanderbilt said. "Just because the game was taken away for so long."

Growing pains

Vanderbilt grew up in Houston in a family that was accomplished in athletics, which made for some interesting backyard games of one-on-one.

His mom, Gwen, said Vanderbilt was always dedicated to hoops, and had a fierce determination to excel at anything he did.

"Always liked helping others and just very independent. Always knew what he wanted to do at a young age and he'd go for it ..." Gwen Vanderbilt said. "He's always been like that. He was born with the drive.

Gwen said Vanderbilt was always practicing on a basket in their yard against his older siblings.

"They were a lot older than me so they were a lot bigger than me at some point," Jarred said. "It just instilled that toughness in me."

His dad, mom and most of his siblings were college athletes while Robert was an assistant basketball coach at Prairie View A&M.

Older brother Jamal, 16 years Jarred's senior, said as nice as the hoop in their yard was, it didn't beat actual workouts.

"I started taking him to the gym with me," Jamal said. "LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and we worked out together. Passed to him, get shots up and just try to get him more access to gyms to really be able to develop."

Then, at 14, Jarred started to grow — a lot.

"It's like it happened overnight," Robert Vanderbilt said. "I was patting him on the head and the next night he was patting me on the head. We had some good battles in the driveway and I said, 'I can't beat you anymore, so I'm giving up.' "

As Vanderbilt grew, so did the interest from major colleges, and he committed to Kentucky, with his path seemingly set. He became a top recruit, would go to Kentucky for one year under John Calipari and become an NBA lottery or first-round pick.

But that growth spurt to 6-8 came with consequences. His left foot fractured, and during his junior year in high school he opted to let it heal naturally. But at a tournament in his senior season, it happened again.

"He was on my shoulder and he said, 'Why does this keep happening to me?' " Robert Vanderbilt said. "I said, 'It's just a phase. We're going to take care of it. You stay upbeat and we're going to stay upbeat.'"

Jarred had surgery to put a screw in his foot.

"It was just difficult being that young and having those recurring injuries, especially big injuries, not like a little hamstring or something," he said. "Going through that rehab process is tough, especially being that young."

Faith is central to the Vanderbilt family, and it helped Vanderbilt get through some of his darker moments. Vanderbilt has an arm tattoo that says "walk by faith," which references 2 Corinthians 5:7. "I have faith that everything is going to work out how it's planned," he said.

Those first two fractures tested his faith, his determination, his will to keep playing — but there were more obstacles ahead.

The toughest break

Vanderbilt was still rehabbing and sat out most of the season when he got to Kentucky, but eventually was healthy enough to play. In 14 games he averaged 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds.

"When he played for us, when he got on the floor, he was a difference maker," Calipari said.

But Vanderbilt landed in a fit of pain at that practice, his season over and his career in doubt.

"I thought the screw was the last option," Vanderbilt said. "It was real stressful at that point."

Robert Vanderbilt said the family never considered having Jarred return to Kentucky — he was going to the NBA, injured or not.

To add injury to injury, Vanderbilt not only needed surgery on his left foot, but his right foot was also showing signs of the same problems. As he entered the draft process, he opted to have surgery on both feet. More recovery, more rehab, more mental strain.

"He was skeptical," Jamal said. "He was already a little nervous about the draft and now he has surgery on two feet and he couldn't walk at all."

Said Jarred: "There was a time I just sat down, didn't really talk to nobody because it was just tough. I was trying to go through it by myself. But they respected my space as well, just being a call away if I needed it."

Jarred stayed with Jamal as he rehabilitated and tried to remain optimistic. Slowly, he made his way back. His will to play in the NBA, though tested, never shrank.

"He showed me that yeah, we're human. We have doubt. We have insecurities," Payne said. "But we got to know that our character and our faith in who we are … our mental toughness can get us through anything. He's a shining example of that."

Finally, a breakthrough

Teams knew they'd be drafting Vanderbilt as a long-term prospect who needed time to recover, and the Nuggets took him at No. 41 while the Rockets had expressed interest in him during the process.

The match was never a great one in Denver as he got lost amid a deep roster. Vanderbilt played a total of 23 games in two seasons before then-Wolves president Gersson Rosas, who was previously in Houston, nabbed him from the Nuggets in a four-team trade that also brought in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, now with the Spurs.

"I was shocked when I got traded," Vanderbilt said. "Honestly just because it was the realization that it wasn't like college. … But looking back on it, I feel like it happened for the best, for me and my career. It allowed me to make a way and make a name for myself in this league."

Shortly after the trade, COVID-19 shut down the Wolves' season and he'd have to wait his time. He had been waiting over four years to play meaningful basketball on a consistent basis. What was one more?

Last season he finally got to show what he can do. He was in and out of the rotation and starting lineup, but by the end of the season, Vanderbilt's worth to the Wolves was evident.

His rebounding and ability to generate second chances was invaluable. His defense was sorely needed on a team that struggled to defend. The Wolves needed him, and after a prolonged restricted free agency, Vanderbilt put pen to paper on a new three-year deal worth up to $13.8 million.

"It was like a sigh of relief," Vanderbilt said. "My first couple years in the league it wasn't easy. Injury, not being in the rotation. At that time you didn't know what the future would hold. But I was able to showcase my game and just allowed me to make a way.

"Any time you can make it to that second contract, it's always great, because a lot of people don't."

Vanderbilt didn't know if there would even be a first one, which is why he plays as he does — skying for rebounds, diving for loose balls and fighting for position inside. His feet have held up in the NBA. He's averaging 6.6 points and 9.2 rebounds this season while guarding some of the opponent's best players.

"I didn't know Vanderbilt was that good defensively," Wolves veteran guard Patrick Beverley said earlier in the season.

Glimpse of potential

Vanderbilt's role has grown to the point that executive vice president Sachin Gupta said he would have to carefully examine any move the Wolves make at the coming trade deadline to make sure it doesn't detract from Vanderbilt's hard-earned minutes.

"You can't quantify the added value that he brings because his teammates just feel comfortable that if I miss this shot, there's a really good chance Vando gets it back for us," Finch said. "It gives you confidence when you have a team on the ropes and Vando comes up with a loose ball or the offensive rebound or the big steal to give you that extra surge just at the right moment to put the team away."

On Jan. 9, the Wolves played in Houston and Vanderbilt had quite the homecoming, with career highs in points (21) and rebounds (19). He had eight dunks, the most any Wolves player has had since at least 1996, as family and friends in attendance celebrated.

"It's a dream," Vanderbilt said afterward. "I grew up coming to Rockets games, so being able to do this in front of my hometown, in front of friends and family, it means everything."

Everything meant overcoming surgeries, barely playing his final years of high school and college, then succeeding in the pros and putting on a show for family and friends at the arena he attended as a kid.

"He makes me a proud papa," Robert Vanderbilt said. "I'm so happy for him, because he's worked hard. … It's all coming out now, man."