Will PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel be on Kentucky’s roster this fall? With the NCAA’s eligibility deadline fast approaching, the Kentucky Sports Radio staff turned in their predictions.
Tyler: PJ’s situation has been the most frustrating to me because he has the most to gain by coming back. Only one or two mock drafts have PJ getting drafted at all this year, whereas he’s projected to be a mid-first round pick in the 2019 draft. PJ and his family have always struck me as very reasonable, so why drag this out? The only answer I can come up with is PJ is so close to his dream of playing in the NBA that he’s taking this to the wire in hopes of getting a first round guarantee. I doubt he’ll get it, so my prediction is reason will win out and he’ll return to Kentucky and have a monster sophomore season.
T.J.: A week ago I thought there was a slim chance that Washington would return to Kentucky, but after his last two workouts last week there seems to be a sense that he may actually return to UK for a sophomore season. The question with Washington is how serious is he about that first round guarantee? Is it a first round guarantee along with a top 10 pick in the second round? If he truly is set on first round or bust, well, it’s not happening. I’m starting to actually believe Washington will return for a sophomore season.
Nick: Even though there appears to be some late breaking scuttlebutt that Washington will return to Kentucky for one more season, I’m not buying it. If he does return, he’ll be the Cats’ best player, but after a few excellent scrimmages at the NBA Combine, my gut refuses to believe that he will only leave if he’s a guaranteed first round pick.
Jack: Washington has had a great evaluation period, featuring a strong performance at the NBA Combine and impressive workouts showing off an improved jump shot. He began the process in the late-2nd/undrafted range, but has pushed his way up the board to the early/mid-2nd round range. If he fails to find a taker at the end of the first round, as expected, I think Washington realizes he can return to Kentucky and become not only one of the best frontcourt players in the SEC, but the entire nation. With the opportunity to dominate, lead his team to a title, and jump into lottery position in next June’s draft, the Kentucky forward will ultimately return to school to anchor the 2018-19 roster.
Drew: Before I make any of my predictions, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t know anything more than you do about the three. Like you, I’m a little baffled we’re even having this conversation in the first place because I think all three should return, except for maybe Vanderbilt if he’s not confident he can stay healthy. That being said, I’ll go on the record as saying Washington will return because he is not going to get that first-round guarantee. He has so much to gain by coming back, I think he’ll ultimately decide to do so. He can get redemption for his free throw woes in his last game; he can show the NBA he can shoot; he will be an All-SEC player; and he can take advantage of a weak 2019 draft class. Come on back, PJ.
Tyler: It’s hard to understand Jarred’s situation because the extent of his injury is still unknown. An NBA team would probably take a chance on him in the second round, but clearly, he could help his case with a successful second year at Kentucky; however, is his injury — and, perhaps more importantly, the fear or reinjury — enough for him to go ahead and take whatever he can get this year? Even though he has people around him who want him to stay in the draft, I believe he will return to Kentucky simply because he doesn’t have a lot of options otherwise.
T.J.: We will never cover a Kentucky player as mysterious as Jarred Vanderbilt. His recruitment was kept in the dark, and we have no idea the extent of his injuries during his time as a Wildcat. We also don’t have any idea what’s next for Vanderbilt. We do know that he bailed last minute on the NBA Combine. We know he hasn’t met with many NBA teams (if any at all). We know that he wouldn’t be drafted in the first round. It seems like a no-brainer Vanderbilt should return but we are here still waiting. It seems like he may have to return to UK unless he wants to rehab in the G-League.
Nick: Vanderbilt can’t leave, can he? He bailed on the NBA Combine for unknown reasons. We will discover after his decision that it was likely because of injury. If Vanderbilt finished the season, I would understand the motive to depart for the NBA Draft: cash in while you can. However, the injury that kept Vanderbilt out of the NCAA Tournament gives him no other choice than to return to UK for one more year.
Jack: Vanderbilt easily has the toughest decision out of the three Wildcats participating in the evaluation process. When he was on the court, there was no denying Vando was one of the most talented and fun-to-watch players on the team. His motor and rebounding abilities were second-to-none, and we saw in high school just how silky-smooth he could be on offense, as well.
But that was when he actually played.
If Vanderbilt gets hurt again, there’s a chance the NBA may be too scared to take a shot on him ever again. After pulling out of the combine for unknown reasons, teams now have zero medical records and very limited on-court film of him to work with. Teams draft on potential all the time, but I have an extremely hard time believing a team would take a shot on him right now with so many question marks surrounding his status.
My gut tells me Vando returns to Kentucky in hopes of an injury-free season to maximize his draft stock for 2019. If he’s able to accomplish that, he has first-round lock written all over him.
Drew: Vanderbilt’s entire first season was a head-scratcher, filled with all kinds of rumors about what was truly going on behind the scenes. There was speculation that he was ready to play much sooner than he actually did, and that he and his family had eyes on the NBA over playing at all his freshman season. I still think they’re eager to get to the league, so I’ll say he makes the jump now to begin rehabbing with an NBA franchise while making whatever money he can get right away. He’s obviously very fragile, and if he were to injure himself again at UK next season, he may never earn a dime playing basketball.
Tyler: Wenyen’s choice is the simplest of the three. If PJ and/or Jarred come back, he probably won’t get the minutes he needs to improve his draft stock; however, he’s one year shy of graduating. If both PJ and Jarred return to Kentucky, I think Wenyen’s gone, but if only one of them returns, I think he’ll decide to come back, fight for playing time, and get his degree.
T.J.: Similar to what Tyler said above. If one of P.J./Jarred leave for the NBA Draft I would expect Wenyen to return, but it’s going to come down to minutes for Gabriel. His three-point shooting makes him intriguing but if he won’t get the minutes to play it makes sense to go overseas and get paid.
Nick: With all of these predictions, I’m sticking with my gut. Washington will leave, while Vanderbilt and Gabriel will return. It provides just enough opportunity for Gabriel to get minutes as a lengthy perimeter player. He will graduate and have an infinitely higher chance of cashing an NBA check after three years at UK.
Jack: If Washington and Vanderbilt return to Kentucky, I think Gabriel will keep his name in the draft and explore his professional options further. The Wildcat forward enjoys playing at UK, but he also likely sees the writing on the wall when it comes to playing time. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards are locked in, and if Vando and Washington return, that’s a loaded frontcourt with limited extra minutes. I suppose Gabriel could work on his guard skills a bit and see additional time at the three, but that’s not something to bank on.
I think Gabriel would obviously find minutes as a junior, but how much could he actually improve his stock if he’s not a go-to option on offense?
If one of Vanderbilt or Washington leaves, Gabriel fills that spot and returns to Kentucky. If not, I believe he is gone.
Drew: Like everyone else said, Wenyen’s decision is going to come down to how many minutes are waiting for him at Kentucky. I’ll be different and say he leaves, and if he does, I wish him nothing but the best because he’s one of my favorites. I’m a big Wenyen fan and I hope I’m wrong.