Add a fifth name to the list of Kentucky underclassmen who’ve declared for the 2018 NBA Draft since the Wildcats’ season ended last month. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel is the latest to throw his name in for consideration, although like teammate PJ Washington, he’s so far just testing the waters.
Gabriel announced his plans Wednesday, which for now do not include hiring an agent, meaning he still has the opportunity to return to school if he doesn’t like what he hears from pro talent evaluators. If he maintains his amateur status, Gabriel has until 10 days after the conclusion of the NBA combine to pull out of the draft.
This year’s combine ends on May 20, making his and Washington’s deadlines to decide May 30.
Gabriel posted the following message to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to announce his decision:
“My dream has always been to play professionally,” he wrote. “After talking with Coach Cal 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 of the opportunities it’s been able to provide me.”
Those things we think impossible you can achieve, we know it ain't promised or guaranteed but everybody got a dream💯 pic.twitter.com/t1cgnDMTVY
— UPMΛN™ (@WenyenGabriel) April 18, 2018
Gabriel’s Tweet was quickly followed by a message of support from John Calipari:
“Wenyen Gabriel 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,” Kentucky’s coach wrote. “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.”
.@WenyenGabriel 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. The great part about this process is Wenyen will know firsthand where he stands with the NBA. https://t.co/XLDBOfuVc1
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) April 18, 2018
Gabriel, a 6-foot-9 forward out of New Hampshire, averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Wildcats during his sophomore season in 2017-18. It was a slight bump in production from his freshman season, which produced 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for Kentucky.
The former 5-star recruit was at his best this postseason, averaging 27.5 points, 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in UK’s final six games. He sank 7 of 7 3-pointers in the SEC semifinals (a school and tournament record) and posted a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Gabriel also shot 54.2 percent from 3-point range over the final 10 games.
“To see the minutes he got, especially in March, I thought that was great and I’m hoping for big things to come for his junior year,” his high school coach, Mike Mannix, told SEC Country last week. “Even though I know all the talk all the time about Kentucky and its players is about the one-and-done thing — that’s all good, but at the same time, guys like Willie Cauley-Stein and others who’ve come back have had really great careers.”
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reports that “several NBA executives” told ESPN Gabriel should receive an invite to the NBA combine in Chicago next month, though he is not expected to be in consideration for a first-round selection. He is not listed among ESPN’s top 100 draft-eligible prospects for 2018.
He and Washington — as well as freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who has until 11:59 p.m. Sunday to announce whether he’s entering the draft — have difficult decisions to make. Kentucky stars Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo have already made them. Each is hiring or has hired an agent, effectively ending their college careers.