LEXINGTON, Ky. — The next 37 days will go a long way toward shaping the 2018-19 Kentucky basketball roster. In that time, forwards PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel must decide whether to leave their names in the NBA draft or pull out and return for another season in Lexington.
Unlike former teammates Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo, all of whom have already hired agents, these other three have little hope of being picked in the first round — and at least some reason to believe they might not be selected at all.
So what should Washington, Vanderbilt and Gabriel do? And where do they stand heading into next month’s NBA combine and individual team workouts? SEC Country spoke (on the condition of anonymity) to a scout for one of the league’s current playoff teams to get a better sense of that.
“I could see all three leaving. I think PJ is out — I’m pretty sure he’s going — and it’s a shame, because you just look at next year’s draft and there’s a lot more opportunity,” the scout said Monday. “A lot of people aren’t really high on [college basketball’s incoming freshman class] after seeing them at the Nike Hoop Summit, the Jordan Brand Classic and the McDonald’s game. You’re going to have a lot of guys come back to school and really benefit and maybe move into the second round or first round — where they probably wouldn’t have before — because I think there’s going to be a lot of really disappointing freshmen.”
In ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 draft-eligible players, Washington is 50th, Vanderbilt 64th and Gabriel isn’t listed.
“They should all come back,” the scout said.
But why? He was kind enough to elaborate on each of the Wildcats’ three water testers:
PJ Washington (6-7, Fr.)
“PJ is undersized. He’s got to be able to shoot it and he’s got to be that tough guy who can rebound and make up for his and lack of size. That’s going to be really tough. His best bet [in the NBA] is as a pick-and-pop four man who can hopefully find a way to crash the glass.
“I think he needs another year. If he goes back and has a big-time year, he can prove that he can do some of that stuff. I give him some credit because he got in better shape [last season], but I don’t feel like he’s ready. I think he’s a G League guy.
“I think he’s a very good college player. It’s just that until he can shoot, I’m not seeing it [as an NBA player]. But maybe you could develop him into that. Maybe he could be Chuck Hayes. Another year under Cal would be good; he could be a really, really good college player.”
Jarred Vanderbilt (6-9, Fr.)
“He’s intriguing, but another year would be good just because I don’t think we’ve seen the full Jarred Vanderbilt. You need to see a full offseason of him actually working on his shooting. His shooting is his Achilles heel. He plays hard, he rebounds, but he needs to become a better finisher around the basket. He can get his own shot. I like his motor and how hard he plays. The biggest thing is shooting, because that could really open up his game.
“He’s going to have to have some good workouts [to even get drafted]. Then maybe you take a flier on him in the second round — maybe. He’s another guy who’ll have to start out in the G League. Is that what he wants? He’d be intriguing, but I’d love to see him in a workout and see how he actually does, because this year wasn’t a good reflection of him.”
Wenyen Gabriel (6-9, So.)
“I like him as a four-year guy, so I hope he does go back to school. He can kind of shoot it, can kind of rebound, but he needs to get stronger, needs to play harder. I feel like if he hadn’t come in with all the hype of a [5-star recruit], people would be more realistic with him. He needs to go back. He could be a four-year player and actually end up being something [in the NBA], like a three-and-D guy.
“If we’re talking about the three guys, who has the most upside, Jarred’s probably No. 1 because there’s a lot of things we haven’t seen yet, but then I’d probably pick Wenyen over PJ. The whole game is about length an athleticism. So even if he did stay in the draft, maybe he could somehow make it. I’m not saying he gets drafted, but maybe he finds a way [through the G League] just because of his body type and things like that; he’s a good development project.
“I don’t know if he has that fight in him, but he’d make a really good Summer League player and someone who — if he finds a really good development system, and maybe it takes a few different stops — maybe he finds a way to make it. I really do feel like he has a chance. He’s 21, going to be 22 soon, so I can see why he wants to test it.”