Washington returning, Vanderbilt, Gabriel gone

KEITH TAYLOR - Kentucky Today
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LEXINGTON — PJ Washington opted against remaining in the NBA Draft and will return for his sophomore campaign, while Wenyen Gabriel has decided to leave the school.

Washington unveiled his future plans on Twitter Wednesday afternoon with a video and the inscription, “I’m back.”

Washington participated in the NBA Combine last week and hinted that he would return if he wasn’t guaranteed to be a first-round selection in the NBA Draft.

Washington called the decision “one of the most important decisions of my life” and added the “plan all along was to get all the information that was out there to make the best decision for me and my family. I’ve always had a list of goals that I want to accomplish and one of the most important ones is making it to the NBA. That hasn’t changed at all.”

Although reaching the next level is a priority, winning a national championship also is on his wish list.

“Another one of my goals is to win a national championship in college, and that’s what I want to do next season at Kentucky,” he said. “I believe with who we have coming back and who we have coming in that we can do that. I learned a lot during my freshman season and became a better player, but I think I’ve only scratched the surface. With everything I’ve learned, I want to lead this team and compete for a championship. I can’t wait to get back on campus and get this thing started again.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari welcomed Washington’s return and praised the sophomore for testing the waters.

“This is what the NBA Draft rules are in place for,” Calipari said. “PJ was able to test the waters and get all the information that was available to him to make the best decision for him and his family. Whatever PJ decided we were going to support, but I’m really happy with the decision he’s come to because I really want to coach PJ for another season. I know how good of a player he is and think he showed it at times last season, but I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and build on it.

“What I love most about this decision is why PJ is doing it. He told me he wants to come back to be a leader, to grow and to drag his teammates with him as we try to do something special.”

Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season, During a 12-game period down the stretch, Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and helped lead the Wildcats to the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.

As a freshman, Washington tallied double figures in 23 games and scored 15 or more points in 10 games. He started 30 of 37 games in his first season with the Wildcats.

Following Washington’s announcement, Gabriel announced he would not be returning to Kentucky next season and will remain in the NBA Draft.

“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 finished his Kentucky career on a high note and averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds per game. He made seven straight 3-pointers in the Southeastern Conference semifinals and scored 23 points. His three-point barrage set a school and SEC record for most 3-pointers made without a miss.

Over the final eight games, Gabriel averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-point field goals per game. The 6-foot-9 forward became UK’s go-to 3-point threat down the stretch, making 56.7 percent of his shots from behind the arc over that eight games.

“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.”

Jarred Vanderbilt is staying in the NBA Draft.

The freshman forward waited until the last minute to make his decision known after enduring a roller-coaster ride in his first and only season with the Wildcats.

“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.”

Vanderbilt played in just 14 games last season and missed the first 17 games because of a leg injury. Vanderbilt grabbed at least five rebounds in his first four games, including 11 in a comeback win over West Virginia, Vanderbilt grabbed 10 or more rebounds in five of his last six games and averaged 7.9 boards per game during his time on the court. He also was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” he said last month. “God works in mysterious ways and presented me with a number of challenges to overcome. I believe I became a better man and player because of them, but it’s also made me think about my future and what’s best for me. At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA. I knew coach (John Calipari) and the staff would challenge me and prepare me to make that step better than anyone else.”

Calipari said Vanderbilt “had a very difficult decision to make.”

“I know he has been pulled in two different directions,” Calipari said. “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.”

The NBA Draft is set for June 21.

The decision by Vanderbilt could clear the way for Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, who has reportedly narrowed his college choices down to Kentucky and Villanova. Travis withdrew from the NBA Draft on Wednesday and announced his plans to transfer.

Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Cardinal last season.





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