Today is the day when the Kentucky Wildcats will hear what PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt will do for their future.
All three remain undecided on whether to go pro or return for another year at UK.
Gabriel should, in theory, be facing the easiest decision of the three to return. He almost certainly won’t be selected for the NBA Draft, and it’s no certainly he’d get a chance to play with a team in the summer league, then fight for a roster spot in training camp.
However, Gabriel could pursue a career overseas and make a good chunk of money right away to support his family, which has had a rough upbringing. No one can fault Gabriel if he wants to support them now. It helps that he just enjoyed a breakout season that saw him become a major factor as UK went 9-2 to end the season.
Part of why Gabriel finished the season strong was due to Vanderbilt being injured. Prior to what was reported as an ankle sprain going into the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt was rising up draft boards, so much so that he was projected as a late first/early second-round pick.
But Vanderbilt’s latest injury came and all but killed those hopes. Even so, Vanderbilt, along with Gabriel, is strongly considering a jump to the pros.
Then there’s the case of Washington, who initially looked like someone who was bound for a sophomore season at UK. However, rumblings have persisted that Washington is ready to be a pro, so much so that he’ll risk being a second-round pick to do so.
It helps that Washington had a good showing at the NBA Draft Combine, likely solidifying his status as a second-round pick. Is that enough to keep him in the draft?
With decision day here, there’s as much uncertainty on the three as there’s been all offseason, and I have a theory as to why that is.
The first is Vanderbilt, who normally would be a lock to return due to his injuries and, in theory, lack of NBA stock.
However, it’s become clear that some NBA evaluators are willing to look past Vanderbilt’s injury woes and instead at his long-term potential, which you could argue is as high as anyone in this year’s draft.
That’s why, despite all the odds, some experts think Vanderbilt should actually stay in the draft, and even mock drafts are starting to have Vanderbilt going in that 40-45 range.
So while we may think this is an easy decision, behind the scenes, it may be anything but, thus leading to Vanderbilt taking his decision to the wire.
As for Washington, I think he was set on going pro when the process began, partly because he was very confident that he’d be able to convince teams he was worth a late first or early second-round pick.
To his credit, he did begin to do that with a good showing at the combine. However, it seems like he’s still be unable to get assurance he’ll even be an early second-round pick, thus making his decision tougher than he anticipated.
Then there’s Gabriel, who most experts predicted would return if just one of Washington and Vanderbilt left for the pros, which makes perfect sense. There’s no denying their upside is higher than that of Gabriel.
And with Washington expected to leave, the confidence in Gabriel returning amongst media grew in recent weeks.
However, I think there’s a reason why Gabriel hasn’t announced yet, and it’s not just because he’s waiting on what Vanderbilt and Washington do. I think he’s also waiting to see what Reid Travis will do.
For a refresher, Travis is the talented power forward from Stanford that’s been rumored to be a strong UK target if he becomes a graduate transfer.
And there’s a reason why these rumors have persisted, because it’s something UK is really looking into. And if that’s the case, then Gabriel probably knows about it, and in his mind, UK getting Reid to go with one of Washington or Vanderbilt is the same as those two returning to UK.
So if Gabriel is going to leave if UK gets back Washington and Vanderbilt, he’s probably going to have the same mindset if it’s Travis joining one of those two. In essence, Gabriel may be waiting on three decisions before he returns to UK.
Because none of the four have made the final call as of Wednesday morning, that’s helped lead to all four taking their decisions to the deadline.
I’m assuming Travis pulls out of the draft and decides to become a grad transfer with an announcement on the latter coming as early as today.
I’m “guessing” Vanderbilt returns to UK and Washington stays in the draft. There’s just been too much buzz throughout the process that he’s ready to leave for me to change my guess on decision day.
Then it comes down to what Gabriel thinks he should do. If he believes there’s a real chance Travis comes, I think he keeps his name in the draft, thus giving UK just one of its three NBA guys back.
But in that scenario, I believe UK will pursue and land Travis, giving them the two impact big men they needed to get coming out of the draft.
I do think it’s possible UK ends up with three players from that group of four, but getting all four isn’t a real option. With that being said, here’s my ranking of the possible return scenarios from most to least likely to happen:
- Jarred Vanderbilt and Reid Travis
- Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel
- Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington
- PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel
- Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel and PJ Washington
- Wenyen Gabriel and Reid Travis
- Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel and Reid Travis
- PJ Washington and Reid Travis
- Only Jarred Vanderbilt
- Only Wenyen Gabriel
- Only PJ Washington
- Only Reid Travis
- PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Reid Travis
- None end up at UK next season
- All end up at UK
While you can argue with the order, I feel very confident that UK is going to have at least two of these guys going into next season.
And I know a lot of other UK experts are saying they think Washington comes back now, but I’m still in the ‘believe it when I see it’ boat. I hope to be wrong.