LEXINGTON — Wenyen Gabriel has always wanted to play at the next level and will get a chance to test the waters.
The University of Kentucky forward declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday, but won’t retain an agent, leaving open the possibility of returning next season. If Gabriel doesn’t hire an agent, he will have until May 30 to remain in the draft or return for his junior campaign next year. The NBA Combine is set for May 20 in Chicago.
“My dream has always been to play professionally,” Gabriel said. “After talking with coach (John Calipari) and the staff, they believe it’s in my best interest to see where I stand in the eyes of the NBA. I’m confident I can play at the next level, but I want to be absolutely certain that this is the right decision for me at this time.
“I know that I have the opportunity to return to school and that I will have the full support of the coaching staff and the Big Blue Nation. No matter what happens, I love this university and all the opportunities it’s been able to provide me.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari gave Gabriel his blessing and hopes the sophomore forward returns for a third season.
“Wenyen knows how much I would like to coach him another year, but I also understand the situation he’s in and his desire to pursue his dreams,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “The great part about this process is Wenyen will know firsthand where he stands with the NBA. If it’s his time and he can continue on the path that he went on this year, he becomes a valuable asset for a team because of his energy, his willingness to do anything to win and his ability to stretch the floor. If he needs to return to school, we will continue to push him to be the best version of himself as we try to chase a championship next season. It’s a win-win for him, and he has my full support.”
Gabriel averaged 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in the postseason and became one of Kentucky’s top players down the stretch. Gabriel shot 56.7 percent from long range during an eight-game period and made seven threes in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in Saint Louis. Gabriel averaged 6.8 ppg during the regular season and pulled down 5.4 boards per contest. He made 42 shots from long range and blocked a team-high 40 shots, with four games featuring three or more blocks.
Gabriel became the fifth Kentucky player to declare for the draft and joins PJ Washington as two players who could opt to return next season. Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also have declared for the draft, but all three players have plans to hire an agent.