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Wednesday / June 20.
  • Kentucky’s P.J. Washington to return to school, Wenyen Gabriel, Jarred Vanderbilt remaining in NBA Draft

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    Kentucky will lose two front court players, but will keep one.

    That was the fallout after freshman PJ Washington decided to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season, while freshman Jarred Vanderbilt and sophomore Wenyen Gabriel opted to remain in the NBA Draft.

    Gabriel and Vanderbilt will join teammates Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox in the June 21 draft, which will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Vanderbilt news was first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Per the latest ESPN mock draft, Gilgeous-Alexander is projected to go No. 12 to the Clippers, Knox No. 15 to the Wizards and Diallo No. 35 to the Magic.

    “I want to thank everyone for their support during this process and allowing me to take my time for one of the most important decisions of my life,” Washington said. “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 in my life, and one of the most important ones is making it to the NBA. That hasn’t changed at all.

    “But 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. 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.”

    Said Kentucky coach John Calipari:  “This is what the NBA Draft rules are in place for. 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.”

    Meantime, Gabriel and Vanderbilt will remain in the Draft although neither is projected to get drafted.

    “BBN, thank you for supporting me for the last two years and being patient with me through these last few weeks,” Gabriel said. “This process hasn’t been easy for me and it’s choosing between a lifelong dream and playing in front of a fan base that I’ve grown to love so much. Opportunities like these don’t come without the support and encouragement from my family, Coach Cal, the coaching staff, my teammates, and of course, the fans.

    “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.”

    Vanderbilt was the last of the three to announce his plans.

    “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 was limited to 14 games in 2017-18 because of a left foot injury that sidelined him the first 17 games of the season and then a left leg injury that kept him out of the postseason. When Vanderbilt was on the floor, he was a problem for opposing teams.

    “Jarred had a difficult decision to make,” Calipari said. “I know he has been pulled in two different directions. 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.”

    Washington’s return bolsters what was already shaping up to be a loaded 2018-19 roster. Forward Nick Richards and guard Quade Green are expected to be back for their sophomore seasons. Jemarl Baker will be fully healthy and return to the lineup next year. Additionally, UK has another highly ranked recruiting class that includes Tyler Herro, Keldon Johsnon, EJ Montgomery, Zan Payne and Immanuel Quickley.

    Kentucky also remains in the mix for Stanford transfer Reid Travis.

    (Kentucky releases contributed)

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.