LEXINGTON, Ky. — The last of Kentucky’s six 2018 NBA Draft declarations is in: Freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt announced Friday that he’s entering his name in the draft but not hiring an agent, leaving open the possibility of a return to school.
“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt wrote in a UK-issued statement. “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 Cal and the staff would challenge me and prepare me to make that step better than anyone else.
“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school. With that said, I’m entering my name in the 2018 NBA Draft and testing the waters. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I want to use this process to get an evaluation from the NBA and see where I’m at. I appreciate the support of the staff and the Big Blue Nation while I work through this.”
Freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have already declared for the draft and plan to hire agents, while teammates PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel have declared for the draft but do not initially plan to hire agents. The deadline for Washington, Gabriel and Vanderbilt to pull out of the draft is May 30, which is 10 days after the end of the NBA combine.
Vanderbilt, a 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American who was considered a potential lottery pick heading into last season, averaged 5.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 17.0 minutes in the 14 games he played for Kentucky this season between injuries.
“Jarred is in a unique situation because of the time he missed on the court this season,” Cats coach John Calipari wrote in a school-issued statement. “I truly believe we only saw a small part of Jarred’s game because he had to figure out how to play with us and we had to figure out how to play with him. What we did see was a player with an unbelievable motor who will grab every ball, get his teammates involved and fight like heck.
“We would certainly welcome Jarred back with open arms and I would love the opportunity to coach him for a full season, but I know he needs to go through this process and see where he’s at. He has the type of skills and talent that NBA teams love; now we have to figure out if now is the time or if he needs another season. Either way, Jarred’s best days are ahead of him and I can’t wait to see him back on the court.”
Vanderbilt missed Kentucky’s first 17 games last season with a left foot injury (his third since high school) and sat out all six of the Wildcats’ postseason games with a left ankle injury suffered in practice. For the seven weeks he was healthy — Jan. 16 to March 3 — Vanderbilt looked like one of the best rebounders in the country.
He averaged 18.5 boards per 40 minutes and his rebounding percentage (25.7) would’ve led the nation if he’d played enough to qualify. Calipari compared him to former NBA star Dennis Rodman.
Vanderbilt’s conundrum, thanks to his injuries and an underwhelming offensive showing in limited action: ESPN ranks him the 64th-best prospect eligible for this draft — and only 60 players will be drafted.
“He needs to go back, work on his shot and have a monster year,” one NBA scout told SEC Country last month. “Hasn’t been on our radar this year because of the injury.”
But there is hope that his situation can improve significantly with a strong sophomore season at Kentucky. ESPN published a way-too-early 2019 NBA mock draft on Friday morning that assumed Vanderbilt would stay in school and come out next season, and the site projected him to be picked 33rd overall. That’s on the cusp of the first round.
(Of note, that mock also has incoming UK freshman Keldon Johnson going 12th and rising sophomore PJ Washington 18th — assuming he ultimately pulls out of the draft this year.)
“The first round would be a little bit more secure,” Jarred’s father, Robert Vanderbilt, told SEC Country last month. “For the most part, that’s what everybody wants, to go in the first round.”
Entered NBA draft (agent)
PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (14.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.1 rpg)
SG Hamidou Diallo (10.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.2 apg)
SF Kevin Knox (15.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Entered NBA draft (no agent)
PF P.J. Washington (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg. 1.5 apg)
PF Wenyen Gabriel (6.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg)
PF Jarred Vanderbilt (5.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.0 apg)
PF Sacha Killeya-Jones (3.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
PF Tai Wynyard (1.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
PG Quade Green (9.3 ppg, 2.7 apg, 1.8 rpg)
Expected to return
SG Jemarl Baker (redshirted last season)
C Nick Richards (5.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 bpg)
2018 recruits signed/committed
PG Immanuel Quickley (5-star)
PG Ashton Hagans (5-star)*
SG Keldon Johnson (5-star)
SG Tyler Herro (4-star)
PF E.J. Montgomery (5-star)
* Hagans is the No. 1 point guard in the 2019 class but is widely expected to reclassify and play this fall.