Five Cats to participate in NBA Draft Combine

Jarred Vanderbilt (Vicky Graff Photo)

CHICAGO – With the 2018 NBA Draft shaping up to be another big night for Kentucky men’s basketball’s team, it came as little surprise Monday when the Wildcats dominated the list of expected attendees for the 2018 NBA Draft Combine, which will take place May 16-20 at Quest Multisport in Chicago.

Wildcat underclassmen Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington were on the 69-man attendee list that the NBA released Monday.

UK’s five players are tied with Duke and Kansas for the most on the list. The Wildcats make up more than eight percent of the invitees. 

The NBA Draft Combine is a multi-day showcase where some of the world’s best draft-eligible players will participate in physical measurements, interviews, drills, medical and athletic testing, and scrimmages in front of NBA personnel. NBA coaches, general managers and scouts will be on hand to assess individual players in preparation for the annual NBA Draft, to be held June 21 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

ESPN2 will televise parts of the NBA Draft Combine on May 17 and May 18 from 3-7 p.m.

Athletes attend by invitation only from the NBA based on the feedback and requests from the 30 NBA teams. Some of Kentucky’s most recent departures have participated in the NBA Combine and gone on to successful NBA Draft nights and promising professional careers.

Of the five Wildcats slated to participate at the combine, three – Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander and Knox – have either signed with an agent or announced their intentions to sign with an agent, which would effectively end their careers at Kentucky.

Under NCAA rules, underclassmen can “test the waters” by declaring for the NBA Draft, participating in the NBA Combine and working out for individual teams. Players have until 10 days after the conclusion of the NBA Combine – May 30 this season – to retain their college eligibility so long as they don’t hire an agent. Vanderbilt and Washington, who have declared for the NBA Draft but not hired an agent, fall under that criteria, as does Wenyen Gabriel, who is not slated to participate in the combine.

Diallo averaged 10.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while starting all 37 games for the Wildcats in 2017-18. He scored in double figures 16 times and topped the 20-point plateau on three occasions, including a breakout 22-point, eight-rebound performance against Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He knocked down a career-high nine shots and also added two blocks and a steal in the victory to send UK to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time under John Calipari.

Diallo was at his best when he was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week after pouring in 20 points and connecting on a career-high four 3-pointers in a win over Virginia Tech. That game was part of a stretch where he scored in double figures in seven straight games, including five with 18 or more.

Knox, the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year, led the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game while also contributing 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Overall, Knox reached double-figure scoring in 30 games this season and had a team-high 10 games of 20 or more points, while also leading the team in rebounding on eight occasions.

The Tampa, Florida, native scored in double figures in 12 consecutive games before Buffalo limited Knox to eight points, becoming the only player to achieve that feat this season and first since De’Aaron Fox concluded the 2016-17 season scoring in double figures in 12 straight. He also notched 20 or more points in three straight games vs. Arkansas, Missouri and Ole Miss, the first player to do that since Malik Monk did it in November and December of 2016.

After moving into the starting lineup on Jan. 9 vs. Texas A&M, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 16.4 points, 5.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds over the final 22 games of the season. Capped by his 29 points in the SEC Tournament championship game, he averaged a team-best 21.0 points, 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 55.3 percent from the floor en route to Most Valuable Player honors at the SEC Tournament.

Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t slow down in NCAA Tournament play, posting 19 points, a career-high eight rebounds, seven assists and a career-high five steals vs. Davidson, followed by 27 points, six rebounds and six assists vs. Buffalo. All told, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 20.7 points, 6.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals in the postseason. He led UK in assists, steals and free-throw percentage.

Vanderbilt was limited to 14 games this season 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.

Once healthy and acclimated to the lineup, he flirted with a double-double (eight points, 10 rebounds) at Missouri and nearly had three straight double-doubles vs. Alabama (11 points, nine rebounds), at Arkansas (11 points, nine rebounds) and at home vs. Mizzou (11 points, career-high 15 boards). He was tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week after the first two of that three-game stretch. Vanderbilt grabbed 10 or more rebounds in five of his last six games and led UK in rebounding average with 7.9 boards per game. He also averaged 5.9 points per game.

Washington scored in double figures in 11 of the final 12 games of the season, including a double-double in UK’s season finale vs. Kansas State. Washington recorded 18 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds for his team-high third double-double of the season. He pulled in at least five rebounds in all but one of those games as well. During that 12-game stretch, Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor. UK went 9-3 during that run, including winning the SEC Tournament title.

For the season, Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds. He led the team in total rebounds with 211 boards, plus he added 31 blocks. Twice Washington scored 20 or more, netting 20 vs. Monmouth on Dec. 9 and 22 vs. Mississippi State on Jan. 23.

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.  

Of the 21 players in the Calipari era who declared for the NBA Draft after one season at Kentucky heading into this season, all 21 were drafted in the first round.

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