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John Calipari, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel comment on NBA Draft decisions

Calipari admitted Vanderbilt “has been pulled in two different directions.”

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the NBA Draft decisions have been made.

The Cats entered Deadline Day with essentially four players who had yet to make their NBA decisions. They got off to a hot start with Stanford transfer (and potential Cat) Reid Travis announcing he’ll play one more season of college ball, and it looks like it will be in Lexington.

Not long after, PJ Washington announced he too was returning to school.

Shortly thereafter, Wenyen Gabriel announced he was remaining in the NBA Draft, ending his UK career.

Vanderbilt followed suit later in the evening, announcing he too was staying in the draft. Of the two, Vanderbilt has the best shot at being drafted, as he’s projected to go in the 40-60 range of mock drafts.

Vanderbilt had a shortened freshman year for the Wildcats last year, but he was effective in the 14 games he played, scoring six points per game while leading the team in rebounds with nearly 8 per game, despite only averaging 17 minutes per game.

Per 40 minutes, that comes out to 18.5 rebounds per game, making him arguably the best rebounder in college basketball. That’s a big reason why he’s on the radars of NBA teams, despite missing so much time and having such a limited offensive game.

After making his announcement, Vanderbilt and John Calipari released statements on his exit.

“Being a professional basketball player has always been a dream of mine,” Vanderbilt said. “From the moment I first picked up a basketball when I was 4 years old, I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. These past couple of weeks have been extremely difficult for me. With everything I went through this past season, I’ve had a lot to think about and what’s best for me and my future. Through it all, I’ve become a better man on and off the court.

“First off, I want to thank God for blessing me with this opportunity because without Him, none of this would be possible. I also want to thank all of the people in my life who have supported me throughout this entire process – from my family, to my teammates, to the coaches and UK staff, and most importantly the fans. The relationships I’ve built here will last a lifetime and I will cherish the memories I’ve made here forever.

“After going through the process, I was able to get some positive feedback that confirmed what I had hoped: that my time is now. It is going to be tough to leave this place, but I’ve decided to remain in the NBA Draft and pursue my dreams now.”

“Although I didn’t get to play a complete season like I initially intended, I’m still thankful for the opportunity I had to put a Kentucky uniform on and play for my dream school.

“I am very grateful I was able to play in front of the greatest fans in the world. I want to thank you for giving me support as I went through this process. You guys supported me throughout the year as I went through my injury and welcomed me with open arms when I got back on the court. This place is very special to me because of you all. Thank you for helping make Kentucky a second home for me. Big Blue Nation, I’ll forever bleed blue with you guys.”

Calipari only got to coach Vanderbilt for 14 games. While it was a short tenure, the UK coach is cheering on his latest NBA entrant. However, he did have an interesting comment on Vanderbilt being pulled in two different directions.

“Jarred had a difficult decision to make,” Calipari said. “I know he has been pulled in two different directions. On one hand he wants to show our fans what he can do in a full season and compete for a championship. I know he feels like he got that taken away from him this year.

“On the other hand, he’s seen how quickly this can be taken away. I completely understand and support his decision to get healthy and pursue his dreams now. As I said before, we’ve only seen a small part of his game because of the adversity he faced this season, but he’s got the motor and skill set that will serve him well at the next level.”

As for Gabriel, he had a breakout of sorts following a frustrating freshman season that ended with him having a heavily-diminished role. His second season was a major improvement as his numbers and minutes improved while he also took on a leadership role. He averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his second season.

“BBN, thank you for supporting me for the last two years and being patient with me through these last few weeks,” Gabriel said in a press release. “This process hasn’t been easy for me and it’s choosing between a lifelong dream and playing in front of a fan base that I’ve grown to love so much. Opportunities like these don’t come without the support and encouragement from my family, Coach Cal, the coaching staff, my teammates, and of course, the fans.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of this journey at the University of Kentucky and I just want to thank everyone for who has supported me through both my ups and my downs. Lord knows this hasn’t been easy, but my time here has only better prepared me for what the future has for me.

“After receiving positive feedback, my dreams of becoming a professional basketball player are that much closer to reality. I believe that I’m ready to take that jump and will be keeping my name in the 2018 draft.”

Gabriel had his moment in the national spotlight when he caught fire in the SEC Tournament, going 7-for-7 from 3-point range against the Alabama Crimson Tide, scoring 23 points.

“Big Blue Nation, we’ve shared some exciting memories together. From the first time I walked out for Big Blue Madness all the way to walking out of St. Louis as SEC champs, Kentucky will always be my home.”

Calipari was hoping to coach Gabriel for another season, but he understands the drive for the pros.

“Wenyen’s game is where the league continues to trend towards,” Calipari said. “He’s a position-less big man who can shoot, guard multiple positions and is willing to do what it takes to win. Wenyen grew so much from his freshman season to his sophomore year. If he continues to make those same strides, he’s going to carve himself a role with a team. He and I have talked and he knows he’s going to have to work hard to get there, but I’m confident he can.”

Good luck to these two Cats in the pros!

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