PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt could all remain in the draft or return to UK. The deadline to decide is May 30, so we’ll know what they’ll do within the next week.
What they ultimately do may finalize the roster for next season, but it may also open the door for more moves to be made in the coming months if one or more of them stay in the draft.
That means it’s time for another look at who could be staying and going for next season.
Not much has changed on the Washington front as the buzz continues to grow that he’ll stay in the draft. He had a great showing at the NBA Draft Combine, increasing the chances that he remains in the draft.
Various media and even NBA scouts continue to hear Washington is strongly leaning toward staying in the draft. He’s planning to meet with a few more teams before meeting with his family in hopes of making a final decision.
Washington will also have ‘the talk’ with John Calipari and other UK coaches. Between that and his family meeting, perhaps Washington is ultimately swayed back into a return to UK.
But for now, the safe bet is on Washington remaining in the draft.
Percentage Chance Gone: 70%
Because Vanderbilt skipped the combine, he missed a chance to meet with teams and see if any of them are willing to draft him. He wasn’t healthy enough to work, which is another knock against his NBA hopes.
Still, there has been some buzz that NBA teams like the potential of Vanderbilt and even think he should stay in the draft. However, there’s been nothing substantial to suggest he’s leaning toward the draft.
It makes too much sense for Vanderbilt to return for his sophomore season, as he could be a first-round pick in a weaker 2019 draft if he stays healthy next season.
But that’s the key: Staying healthy for an extended period of time is something Vanderbilt was unable to do in 2017 between his injury at the Jordan Brand Classic, his preseason injury, and the “ankle sprain” he suffered before the SEC Tournament.
It’s possible Vanderbilt doesn’t want to risk another injury that could kill his NBA hopes, which is why he may leave this year if he believes he’ll be a second-round pick.
I’m still projecting Vanderbilt to return to UK, but it’s far from a done deal with one week left to decide.
Percentage Chance Gone: 30%
Gabriel initially planned on going pro this offseason, even if it meant he’d land overseas. Simply put, he was ready to make a living for himself and his family now, and it didn’t help that UK was set to return a loaded frontcourt for next season.
However, the transfer of Sacha Killeya-Jones and potential for Washington to leave for the pros has opened up a lot more minutes for Gabriel if he returns. That would allow him to take on a bigger role next season and possibly even get selected in a weaker 2019 draft.
I think he is a lock to leave if Washington and Vanderbilt both come back, as they simply have more talent and upside, making it hard for Gabriel to see the floor next season, and thus making it easier for him to begin his pro career.
Assuming one of Washington and Vanderbilt stays in the draft, I think Gabriel will be back in Lexington.
Percentage Chance Gone: 35%
- Quade Green: Will return for sophomore season.
- Nick Richards: Will return for sophomore season.
- Jemarl Baker: Will return for sophomore season.
- Tai Wynyard: Will transfer to Santa Clara.
- Sacha Killeya-Jones: Will transfer to NC State.
- Kevin Knox: Declared for draft and signing with agent.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Declared for draft and signing with agent.
- Hamidou Diallo: Declared for draft and signing with agent.
If Gabriel and Vanderbilt return, I think that will just about finalize the 2018-19 roster. However, in that scenario, UK would have just 10 scholarship players. That’s rarely happened to a Calipari-coached team while at UK.
The fewest scholarship players he’s had was nine in 2012-13, his only UK team that was relegated to the NIT. You could technically count 2010-11 as well since Enes Kanter was ultimately ruled ineligible and Twany Beckham was redshirting following a transfer (it’s still crazy to think a team as thin as they were actually made the Final Four).
That’s why we should expect one more player to join the roster, not counting Ashton Hagans, who’s already expected to reclass and be on campus next season.
Here’s a look at what the roster should look like after the NBA decisions and Hagans’ reclassification:
- Sophomore point guard Quade Green
- Freshman shooting guard/wing Keldon Johnson
- Freshman point guard Ashton Hagans
- Freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley
- Junior forward Wenyen Gabriel
- Sophomore center Nick Richards
- Sophomore forward Jarred Vanderbilt
- Freshman forward EJ Montgomery
- Freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro.
- Redshirt freshman shooting guard Jemarl Baker.
In terms of recruits who could still join UK this year, Jalen Lecque recently scored an offer from UK as he mulls over a reclassification. However, the latest buzz is that UK won’t land him in 2018, and 2019 also looks unlikely.
I still think James Wiseman stays in 2019, but he’s been dominant on the AAU circuit thus far. If he keeps this up into the summer, perhaps he realizes it’s time for him to be on a college campus.
And while Memphis has all the buzz, I believe Wiseman will pick UK if he reclassifies into 2018. But for now, don’t expect that to happen.
Vernon Carey is another recruit who’s been rumored to move into 2018. While UK has made up a lot of ground, I still expect Duke to be the pick, especially if he moves into 2018. He could play center for a Blue Devil team that only has Marques Bolden as a legitimate 5 (I use ‘legitimate’ loosely).
Tyrese Maxey is probably the likeliest player to join UK’s 2018 class, simply because he’s already committed and has enjoyed a strong spring on the AAU circuit. He initially said he plans to remain in 2019, but that may be so he can play in the Peach Jam, the premier AAU event. Once the Peach Jam ends, don’t be surprised if Maxey decides to come to Lexington next season.
And lest we forget Reid Travis, the potential graduate transfer from Stanford who continues to be mentioned as a UK target. It looks like UK could add him if they only lose one of Gabriel, Washington and Washington.
While that seems a little greedy, it makes perfect sense if the two UK gets back are Vanderbilt and Gabriel. While Vanderbilt has a world of talent, UK must have an insurance policy if he’s injured again. And Gabriel is more of a big wing that can stretch the floor, so he’d fit well with Travis, who does most of his damage in the paint.
If I’m ranking the likelihood of these guys to join UK next season from best to worst, here’s how I’d go:
- Tyrese Maxey
- Reid Travis
- Jalen Lecque
- James Wiseman
- Vernon Carey
In the end, I predict one of them will end up on the roster next season. It’s just too dangerous to roll with 10 scholarship players, especially when one of them has already had multiple injuries (Vanderbilt), and another is coming off season-ending knee surgery (Baker).
Calipari absolutely has to ensure UK has at least 11 true scholarship players next season. Who that final one could be may not be revealed until right before UK goes on its Bahamas trip.
And don’t count out another reclass target emerging over the summer. We didn’t learn of Isaac Humphries being a possible option for 2015-16 until August. It’s not out of the question someone else could become an option later this summer, but for now, I’m going with either Maxey or Travis as that 11th guy.