Gabriel will test NBA waters


Kentucky coach Kenny Payne speaks to sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel after Gabriel was taken out of the game after his fourth foul against Kansas State in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Friday, March 23, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia. Kentucky was defeated 61-58. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

With four days to go until the NBA early entry eligibility deadline, sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel has decided to test the NBA Draft waters by declaring for June’s NBA Draft.

Gabriel will not hire an agent, however, giving him the option to return to UK for his junior season. The deadline for Gabriel to withdraw his name from the draft pool is May 30, 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine.

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,” Gabriel said in a press release. “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 the opportunities it’s been able to provide me.”

Gabriel becomes UK’s fifth player to declare for the draft along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox and PJ Washington. Gabriel and Washington were the only ones to not hire agents, so they could return to the team for next season.

If Gabriel returned, he would be one of three returning upperclassmen, but the only one with real playing experience. Gabriel emerged as the energy player coming off the bench for the Cats, a role he excelled at.

In his sophomore campaign, Gabriel averaged 23 minutes a game and contributed 6.8 and 5.4 points per game. Gabriel was one of UK’s best three-point shooters throughout the season, knocking down 40 percent of his three-pointers, which was the second most out of all the players who attempted at least 50 threes.

Gabriel also blocked 40 shots on the season, which was a team-high.

Gabriel isn’t listed on many NBA mock draft boards, but his head coach understands Gabriel’s decision to get scouted by professional basketball teams.

“Wenyen 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,” UK head coach John Calipari said in the press release. “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.”

The only expected UK player left to make an NBA Draft announcement is Jarred Vanderbilt, who is listed on some NBA mock draft boards despite his ankle injury at the end of the season.

The NBA Draft Combine will be in Chicago from May 16-20.