As Kentucky awaits news on the future plans of PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel, the talk among the Big Blue Nation has centered around the simple question: who will come back and who will leave for the draft?
There have been plenty of interviews, Instagram posts, and other materials to try to guess what these guys will decide to do, but we will know for certain each of their plans by Wednesday, which is the deadline to come back to college.
With all that said, we gathered the staff to offer up their predictions on how Washington, Vanderbilt, and Gabriel will proceed with their careers.
I’ve really fluctuated my opinion during this whole process, and a major reason for that is that these guys have actually been pretty quiet about their plans. I don’t think you can read too much into Wenyen Gabriel’s interviews at workouts, PJ Washington’s Instagram posts, or Jarred Vanderbilt’s comments on said Instagram post.
We have to remember that these are college students, and sometimes there is actually nothing to read into, regardless of how hard you look.
That being said, I’ve been all over the place. I once thought Kentucky would get back all three and have went as far as thinking all three would leave... and everything in between.
And honestly, all of the possibilities are on the table. I can still see a scenario where all three return (but it is very slim). I can also see a scenario where all three leave (I also think that’s very slim), but we can’t take anything off the table.
If I am guessing today, I think Washington and Gabriel leave, and Vanderbilt comes back.
Washington has done enough in workouts to be picked second round, but probably not enough to be a first rounder. The key for him is if he believes that he will get a guaranteed contract in the second round. If so, I think he leaves. If not, then he probably comes back. Right now, I’m guessing he leaves.
Gabriel’s situation is unique. If you watched the Facebook series, you got a much more in-depth look at his family background and history, and it’s really hard for me to fault him when him leaving could be for the sole purpose of getting a contract overseas to make some money for his family.
I would love to add Gabriel back on the roster for next season, because I think he brings a lot to the table and would be an upperclassmen on a freshman and sophomore-laden team. That would be a huge asset for the Wildcats, but ultimately today, I think he leaves. That is still very much a toss-up though.
As for Vanderbilt, I think he has the largest room for growth, both on the court and on the draft board. If he comes back and has a healthy season, I think he could potentially be a first round pick, whereas it is hard for me to see him being drafted this season and very hard to see him being drafted in the upper half of the second round.
If he comes back and has a healthy season, while showing notable improvement in his offensive game and produces similar rebounding totals, there is no doubt in my mind he is a first rounder in a much weaker draft next year. Vanderbilt, in my opinion, has the most to gain by coming back for a sophomore season, and that is the reason I think he returns.
Hopefully, Kentucky returns Vanderbilt and either Washington/Gabriel at the minimum. I think bringing back one would be good, but getting 2 of 3 would be one of the most ideal scenarios for Kentucky.
Timothy Coleman Sr.
I have been going back and forth with all three. I’ll first start with PJ Washington. He said he would only stay in the NBA Draft if he was given a first-round promise.
There has been buzz that he’s staying in no matter what. He has announced that he will decide at the deadline on Wednesday.
As it is, I think he comes back to Kentucky and improves his game to first-round status.
Washington decision: Returns to Kentucky.
Jarred Vanderbilt is the toughest one. If he is healthy, it is a no-brainer that he comes back and makes himself a first-round pick. The problem is that he’s dealt with lower-body injuries off and on since his senior year of high school.
He might go undrafted if he stays in the NBA Draft, but would easily get a two-way contract. I think he ultimately comes back, gets himself healed, has a monster season and plays his way into the first round.
Vanderbilt decision: Returns to Kentucky.
Wenyen Gabriel will go undrafted if he stays in the draft, but has a unique situation. His family is not in the best financial shape. He could help them along by getting a G League deal or playing overseas. He may also feel he has overstayed his welcome if he comes back as a junior. He would get his degree if he came back and could always face the same decision next year.
Gabriel decision: Leaves Kentucky to turn pro.
John Morgan Francis
Jarred Vanderbilt has probably the biggest range on the draft board. Some teams who aren’t in a hurry to compete or have a large assortment of second-round picks may want to take a swing on a player who has drawn Dennis Rodman comparisons.
However, he’s got very limited tape and the conversations are more centered on his injury history. That’s not the ideal way to look at a player who you’re drafting to play a contributing role on your team.
One or maybe even two more years with John Calipari could really show us how special Vanderbilt can be.
Vanderbilt Decision: Returns to Kentucky
If any of you have kept up with the NBA Draft Combine scrimmages, PJ Washington had a very positive showing. While he’s shined bright at the combine, keep in mind he’s doing this against 18-21 year old college-aged players and not NBA veterans.
Add in the fact that his jump shot gets shaky outside of mid range and his stock doesn’t shine as much as his combine performance. Still, in a weak back end of the first round, he could possibly sneak in.
With Washington specifically saying it will take a first-round promise to keep him in the draft, I expect he returns to school as that seems unlikely this year.
However, with one more year at Kentucky, he could see his stock skyrocket.
Washington Decision: Returns to Kentucky
Wenyen Gabriel absolutely needs more time in college. I don’t even believe it’s close when projecting him hitting the second round of the draft. However, given his situation, it’s my prediction that he leaves anyway and bets on his odds playing overseas.
Gabriel really came on at the end of the season with hustle plays and his ability to stretch the floor. His veteran presence will be missed as Calipari will coach yet another team of underclassmen.
Gabriel Decision: Leaves Kentucky to turn pro.
Wenyen Gabriel has a big decision to make by Wednesday. Based on the information that has been released it doesn’t look like Wenyen would get picked, but scouts like his potential from behind the 3-point line.
If Wenyen was to return to school, he would bring a veteran leadership to the team that these young freshmen are going to need. Not only would he bring his shooting, but he would also bring his energy and outstanding rebounding ability.
Gabriel Prediction: Returns to Kentucky.
Jarred Vanderbilt is one of the more interesting situations. In skipping the combine, he missed out on performances and team interviews. While returning could be his best option, his risk of re-injury could make it a tough decision for him.
If he is on the team next season he will be one of the best rebounders in the country. In his limited games this past year he helped Kentucky a ton with his rebounding and hustle. He needs to work on his shooting, but I believe he will be a much better shooter than what we saw this year.
Vanderbilt Prediction: Returns to Kentucky.
PJ Washington has the fanbase on pins and needles wondering what he will decide to do. Just look at the Instagram post fiasco. For me, Washington is the decision that is the hardest to predict because I can honestly see him leaving or coming back, it’s truly 50/50.
For me, Washington is the most important piece for next season. He fills the position that Kentucky needs filled and would be a great rebounder. Plus, a second year could make him a beast in college basketball next year. With a weak draft class he could find himself easily going in the first round in 2019, especially if he can improve his jump shot and show he can step out and knock it down.
Washington Prediction: Stays in the draft.
It’s clear that PJ Washington has been looking for any form of definitive information that he will be drafted. He played well in five-on-five competition at the combine, but there still is a lot of uncertainty with his projected position in June’s draft.
I can’t imagine he received many promises from teams about selecting him in the first or even high second round. I believe P.J. Washington will be a great professional player at some point in his career. It is a just a matter of when.
Washington has so much to gain by coming back and potentially becoming a lottery pick. The cryptic photo he posted this week in his Kentucky uniform makes me optimistic that he is leaning towards coming back for a sophomore season. His return would be gigantic for Kentucky’s chances to win a National Championship next season.
Washington Prediction: Returns to Kentucky
Vanderbilt could wind up being the best professional player from the 2017-18 team. He showed spurts of intangible traits including elite rebounding in his limited action. I don’t blame him for getting as much feedback as he possibly can about his current position in the eyes of NBA decision makers. His game seemingly will translate well to pro basketball.
Ultimately, I believe there still far to many questions about Vanderbilt’s health for a team to take a chance on him in the draft. A return to Kentucky would allow Jarred Vanderbilt the opportunity to show what he can do in a full season and apply the feedback he was able was able to gather this spring. His presence next season would be a game changer for the Cats.
I am sure Calipari would much rather be heading to the Bahamas with a big man like Jarred Vanderbilt snatching boards.
Vanderbilt Prediction: Returns to Kentucky
No matter what Wenyen Gabriel decides to do he will always be a living legend in my book for his unbelievable shooting performance in the 2018 SEC Tournament. That was something special and will likely be a record that is not broken for many years. He has given a lot to the program in his time at Kentucky.
Gabriel has size and skill that are hard to come by. I really have no idea what he is going to do. He very well may choose to play professional basketball even if it is not in the NBA right away. However, I can’t see a scenario where he gets drafted, so I will choose to believe that he comes back.
Gabriel Prediction: Returns to Kentucky
The NBA draft decisions of Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel cannot be understated. Their decisions are the difference between Kentucky being a good top 10 team next year, or the odds-on favorite to win the championship. The choices these players make dictate if we are a young team once again or if we have battle-tested veterans on the squad next season.
Nothing has been said to me to make me believe that Vanderbilt will leave this year. NBA personnel have shown interest in his ball-handling and rebounding skills, but are weary to touch him with a 10 foot pole because of his history of injuries and his inability to hit a shot outside of 3 feet.
I’ve been told by people close to the program that Vanderbilt is “100 percent coming back,” so that’s my prediction.
Gabriel has worked out for multiple NBA teams this summer, but has yet to show anyone why they should use a pick on him in this year’s draft. They “see the potential, but it’s still quite a ways away from being tapped into,” as one NBA scout said.
NBA personnel have told him to “go back to school and work on your game,” and have told people on the sidelines at his workouts that “he’s a four-year player.” Scouts see potential in Gabriel as a corner 3-point specialist at the next level, but he’s not ready yet.
Gabriel is deciding if college, the G League or overseas is his best option for developing his game.
I predict Gabriel returns.
Washington is in an awkward position. Teams have given him good reviews based on workouts and his play at the combine. On the other hand, his measurables and lack of shooting ability for a guy who would have to play the three spot some are concerning to scouts.
To be that small and play power forward in the NBA, you have to shoot, rebound and defend as well as Draymond Green. Washington does none of these things particularly well. He has people in his ear telling him to make the money now, but he’s nowhere near the first round.
Washington has always viewed himself as a pro, and while that might potentially push him out the door, I don’t think it does.
In the end, Calipari’s input will be the trump card of this decision. Cal will promise to make Washington a first round pick next season. He returns and we have another super team going into 2018-19.
I don’t see a scenario in which Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel all return to Kentucky next season. With Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery likely to log most of the minutes at the five position and Keldon Johnson penciled in at small forward, the playing time just won’t be there for all three of them.
Vanderbilt played in a limited amount of games last season due to injury. There’s still no timetable on his return from the most recent injury that kept him out of postseason play.
In the limited time Vanderbilt played, we saw flashes of a player with great court awareness and tremendous rebounding ability. However, the kid can’t make a shot beyond five feet.
I think regardless of it’s in the G-League, the NBA or for UK, Vanderbilt must prove he can stay healthy. With that being said, I think his best option is to return for his sophomore season, and I think he’ll do just that.
Gabriel’s decision to put his name in the draft was perplexing. His stats don’t jump off the page as a player who’s ready for the NBA. That’s because he’s not.
Gabriel is a good college player who’s game can translate to the NBA, but realistically he needs more time. All the mock drafts have Gabriel nowhere to be found, and I think that’s where he’ll find himself if he keeps his name in the draft.
I think Gabriel stays and at the very least is UK’s sixth man next season.
Washington will delay his decision until the very end of the deadline. That tells me he’s squarely on the fence and is holding out to see what Vanderbilt and Gabriel do.
If he returns, which he should, I think he’s a lottery pick next year. He’s showed the scouts what he can do by playing well at the combine, and he’s likely to improve next season.
However, while I think Washington should stay, I think he ultimately decides to keep his name in the draft. The only way I see Washington retuning is if both Vanderbilt and Gabriel decide to stay in the draft.
Without Jarred and Wenyen on next year’s team, Washington would dominate playing time at the power forward spot and be able to showcase his skills even more.
It’s that time of year again. Who’s going to stay and who’s going to go? It’s the question that tantalizes Kentucky basketball fans each and every year.
But this year feels different. Throughout most of this past season, we assumed almost everyone would be back besides Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo, but that may not be the case. As the deadline to withdraw from the draft approaches, that question remains the same, so let’s get started.
First, and most importantly, is PJ “Mean Mug” Washington. I wrote an article a couple days ago about Washington and his Instagram post that teased Kentucky fans.
Washington was off and on last season. At times he seemed to be the most dominant player on the court, but also at times he would disappear. With the way the NBA has adapted to 3-point shooting and small-ball lineups, I think Washington could one day be a force in the league. But that time has not come. Washington and his dad have consistently said that if he is not a first round pick then he is returning to Kentucky.
I think Washington would be a mid-to-late first round pick in the weak 2019 draft, and despite all the buzz saying otherwise, I’m predicting that Washington will be on Kentucky’s team next season.
Next, we take a look at Jarred Vanderbilt, aka Dennis Rodman Jr. While I think Vanderbilt has all the intangibles to become a great NBA talent, I don’t think right now is the right time. He’s dealt with countless injuries throughout high school and college and I think he needs to prove to NBA scouts he can stay healthy for an entire season.
If he can, then any NBA team would take a chance on arguably the most athletic player and best rounder in all of college basketball. De’Aaron Fox didn’t say he was the best rebounder he’s ever seen for no reason. But without being able to participate in the combine or workout with teams, I think Vanderbilt simply wanted to go through the draft process because he felt he needed to in order to see what he should work on this upcoming season.
I’m predicting Vanderbilt will join a stacked Kentucky lineup next season.
Lastly, we look at Wenyen Gabriel, who was one of my favorite players on last year’s team. Gabriel’s motor never stops and even when he struggles offensively, he’s always working to block shots on the defensive end. Not to mention he shot close to 40 percent from 3-point range this past season.
I love Gabriel, and after watching the Facebook series on Kentucky basketball, I think he’s an intelligent, hardworking young man who’s simply looking to do whatever he can to help better his family’s situation. If Washington or Vanderbilt leave, then I think Gabriel comes back because that provides him some playing time and possibly allows him to work his way into the 2019 draft as a stretch four and make some real NBA money, along with having a college degree.
But if Washington and Vanderbilt come back, then I don’t see there being any chance Gabriel returns. He needs another season to impress pro scouts and show that he can play in the NBA one day, but with both of those players returning, that vastly diminishes his playing time.
The only reasons he would come back is to get his degree and improve his draft stock, which I don’t think is possible with Washington and Vanderbilt eturning.
So, with all that being said, I think Gabriel opts to keep his name in the NBA Draft, goes undrafted, then plays in the G League or overseas.
With the return of the PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt, I think Kentucky goes on to win number one with one of those most dominant and deep teams in the Calipari era.