After exploring the option of being a one-and-done player, PJ Washington decided to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season.
Meanwhile, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt tweeted that they would remain in this year's NBA Draft.
Washington will join Nick Richards and Quade Green in giving Kentucky a veteran presence that was largely missing this past season.
And the departures of Gabriel and Vanderbilt fueled speculation about Kentucky filling the void with another veteran: graduate transfer Reid Travis, a two-time all-Pac 12 player for Stanford.
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Washington made no secret of the exploratory nature of his entry into this year’s NBA Draft.
"The plan all along was to get all the information that was out there to make the best decision for me and my family," he said in a news release. "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 that we can do that."
In welcoming Washington back, UK Coach John Calipari characterized this past season as a first step.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him grow and build on it," Calipari said in a news release. "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."
Incoming freshman Tyler Herro sounded like a believer in a tweet reacting to Washington's decision: "HES BACK?? Let's get it crackin."
For his impending decision about the NBA or UK, Washington set a clear line of demarcation.
“If I get a second-round guarantee, I’m definitely going back to school,” he told reporters at the NBA Combine. “If it’s first round, I believe I should take it.”
For what it’s worth, neither NBADraft.net, SI.com, ESPN nor CBSSports.com projected Washington as a first-round pick in post-Combine updates of mock drafts.
Washington, who averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds this past season, spoke of a return to Kentucky as something more than a consolation prize. “A lot of talent coming in next year,” he said, “and just to be part of that would be special as well.”
Vanderbilt, who was limited to 14 games because of injuries, surprised some by deciding not to participate in the Combine. He could not physically do the testing nor play in the five-on-five games at the Combine, Calipari said.
“He asked me what I thought about him not coming,” Calipari said, “and I said, ‘If you cannot do any of the stuff, I don’t see the reason (to participate).’”
NBA consultant Ryan Blake had a telling response when asked early this month how Vanderbilt could improve his draft stock at the NBA Combine.
“Don’t get hurt,” Blake said. “And when he gets his medical testing, it doesn’t come back as something that’s long-term damage.”
Vanderbilt’s history of injury continued in his freshman season for Kentucky. He missed the first 17 games and the last six games. This made him something of a mystery.
How could the NBA evaluate Vanderbilt? “I don’t know,” said Bobby Marks, who covers NBA front offices for ESPN. “That’s the question.”
Yet Vanderbilt suggested he got enough encouragement from NBA people to stay in the draft.
"After going through the process, I was able to get some positive feedback that confirms what I had hoped," he said in a video announcing his decision. "That my time is now."
Though his UK career was abbreviated, Vanderbilt said his time as a Wildcat was meaningful.
"The relationships I have built here will last a lifetime," he said, "and I will cherish the memories I made here forever."
Vanderbilt closed his 90-second video by saying, "Big Blue Nation, I'm forever going to bleed blue with you guys. Wildcat for life."
Calipari said he understand why Vanderbilt believed it had been "extremely difficult" to make the decision.
"I know he has been pulled in two different directions," Calipari said in a news release. "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."
Gabriel’s entry into this year’s NBA Draft seemed to mirror Washington’s: a chance to learn how he could improve his stock for future drafts.
“My dream has always been to play professionally,” Gabriel said in a news release announcing his entry in this year’s NBA Draft.
In announcing he will stay in the draft, Gabriel spoke of how difficult the decision was.
"It's choosing between a lifelong dream and playing in front of a fan base I've grown to love so much . . . ," he said in a video announcing the decision. "Lord knows this hasn't been an easy decision."
Calipari suggested that the NBA gave Gabriel mixed reviews. “He’s worked out for some teams,” the UK coach said. “One team told me, yes. The other team told me, no.”
Gabriel was not projected as a first- or second-round pick. Neither ESPN, CBSSports.com nor NBADraft.net mentioned him in their listing of the top 100 players.
But Calipari suggested Gabriel fits the small-ball nature of the modern NBA.
"Wenyen's game is where the league continues to trend toward," the UK coach said in a news release. "He's a position-less big man who can shoot, guard multiple positions and is willing to do what it takes to win."
Gabriel finished this past season on a high note. He averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 three-point baskets in the final eight games. He became an instant icon in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals when he made all seven of his three-point shots. That set UK and SEC Tournament records for most three-pointers made without a miss.
“If it’s his time (to turn pro) 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,” Calipari said. “If he needs to return to school, we will continue to push him to be the best version of himself. . . . It’s a win-win for him.”