Kentucky’s deep-and-talented roster is officially taking shape on Wednesday afternoon as forward P.J. Washington announced that he will return for his sophomore season while Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The return of the 6-foot-7 Washington gives the Wildcats their most consistent frontcourt player from last season. Putting up 10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, the springy forward has a chance to make a major leap during his sophomore season in Lexington.
Gabriel, a 6-foot-9 big man who just completed with sophomore season, is staying in the draft after an up-and-down career with Kentucky. A reserve for most of the past two seasons, Gabriel averaged 6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 23.1 minutes per game last season. A former five-star prospect, Gabriel was never a consistent presence with the Wildcats, but he does have some tantalizing pro tools, including an ability to stretch the floor (39 percent three-point shooting this season).
After an injury-plagued freshman season, the 6-foot-8 Vanderbilt is also staying in the NBA draft. Playing only 14 games during the season, Vanderbilt averaged 5.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game for the Wildcats. Never fully finding a comfortable role in Kentucky’s already-established mid-season rotation, Vanderbilt officially ended his season before Kentucky started its postseason. With a history of injuries, and a crowded froncourt at Kentucky looming, leaving for the pro ranks might be the best option for Vanderbilt if he wants to maximize his potential career.
The major question becomes who Washington might play with in Kentucky’s potentially crowded frontcourt? Stanford graduate transfer forward Reid Travis is rumored to also be potentially going to Kentucky after pulling out of the NBA draft.
When you also factor in the Wildcats bringing in five-star freshman big man E.J. Montgomery, and the return of sophomore big man Nick Richards, and that makes for some intriguing lineup possibilities for head coach John Calipari in the frontcourt.
One interesting wrinkle for Washington could be his ability to play smaller, at the three, since Kentucky has so many potential big men. Although Washington only shot 23 percent from three-point range last season, he is quick enough to stick with some bigger wings while also providing plus rebounding from the position.
We’ll have to wait-and-see what happens with Travis and his transfer decision, but at the very least, Kentucky has Montgomery, Richards and Washington already in the fold for 2018-19.