LEXINGTON, Ky. – Hours ahead of the NCAA deadline to return to school, Kentucky men’s basketball sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel has decided to remain in the 2018 NBA Draft, ending his collegiate career.
Gabriel 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, New York. Freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt has until 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday to submit paperwork to return to school, should he choose to do so. Otherwise he will remain in the NBA Draft and end his college eligibility. PJ Washington was in a similar situation, but elected earlier to return to Kentucky for a sophomore season.
“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.”
Gabriel announced last month that he would enter the 2018 NBA Draft to get an evaluation and explore his professional options. Because he didn’t hire an agent, he had the option of returning to school if he announced by May 30. During that timeframe, Gabriel worked out for a handful of NBA teams.
Based on the information Gabriel received, he’s decided to stay in the draft.
“Big Blue Nation, we’ve shared some exciting memories together. From the first time I walked out for Big Blue Madness all the way to walking out of St. Louis as SEC champs, Kentucky will always be my home.”
Gabriel made huge strides in his sophomore season and played a key part in UK’s late-season run, which included the Wildcats’ fourth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament title.
“Wenyen’s game is where the league continues to trend towards,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “He’s a position-less big man who can shoot, guard multiple positions and is willing to do what it takes to win. Wenyen grew so much from his freshman season to his sophomore year. If he continues to make those same strides, he’s going to carve himself a role with a team. He and I have talked and he knows he’s going to have to work hard to get there, but I’m confident he can.”
Over the final eight games, Gabriel averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-point field goals per game. The 6-foot-9 forward became UK’s go-to 3-point threat down the stretch, making 56.7 percent of his shots from behind the arc over that eight games.
Included in that late-season run was an unforgettable performance in the SEC Tournament semifinals. Gabriel made all seven of his 3-point attempts en route to 23 points. The 7-for-7 performance set UK school records and SEC Tournament records for most 3-pointers made without a miss.
He also posted 16 points and 12 rebounds vs. Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for his first double-double of the season to go along with three 3-pointers. Gabriel had two other such games with three or more 3-pointers in 2017-18.
For the season, Gabriel averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. He made 42 3-pointers, second most on the team, on 39.6-percent shooting from behind the arc. The native of Sudan blocked a team-best 40 shots, including four games with three or more blocks. He had four games with 10 or more rebounds.
Gabriel’s freshman highlights included 23 points vs. LSU, career-high 16 rebounds vs. Auburn and three straight games in double figures in the nonconference season.
Since Calipari joined the Wildcat program for the 2009-10 season, UK has produced 31 NBA Draft picks over eight seasons, 14 more than the next closest school (Duke). Included in the 31 are 24 first-round selections, three No. 1 overall picks, 12 top-10 selections and 17 lottery picks.
‑ GO CATS