By LARRY VAUGHT
There have been a few Kentucky players surprise me during the John Calipari era who opted to leave UK early for the NBA.
Players like Isaiah Briscoe, Jarred Vanderbilt, Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel left to pursue professional opportunities. It’s turned out pretty well for all of them as Briscoe, Vanderbilt and Diallo were all on NBA rosters last season and Gabriel played in the G-League as part of a two-way contract with the Sacramento Kings.
Gabriel and Briscoe left UK after their sophomore seasons. Diallo was at UK 1 1/2 years while Vanderbilt played only sparingly during a freshman year due to injuries.
Now comes a report that EJ Montgomery may not return to UK after a freshman season where he averaged 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He played in 37 games with 11 starts and had 11 rebounds in his NCAA Tournament debut. By comparison, Gabriel averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game his sophomore year at UK when he also played in 37 games with seven starts.
What Gabriel did that year was show he could make a 3-point shot, something Montgomery didn’t do but hopes to show NBA scouts Tuesday during a workout in California.
Former UK standout Tony Delk , a 10-year NBA veteran, has been Montgomery’s “advisor” since he put his name into the draft — and he has until mid-week to take it out to return to UK or say goodbye to his collegiate career.
Montgomery said when he put his name into the draft that he would stay in the draft if he was going to be a first-round pick. I’ve not seen any mock drafts with him listed in the first round — but there were not any with Briscoe, Diallo or Vanderbilt in the first round, either, and all left UK as did Gabriel. Montgomery was also not one of 66 players invited to the NBA Draft Combine this month in Chicago.
Yet here is what Delk told Lexington Herald-Leader UK beat writer Jerry Tipton: “I think he’s staying in (the draft). Just from what I’ve been hearing. He’s already had a couple workouts with teams. So I guess he’s got some good reports from GMs.”
Obviously Delk knew the reaction his comment would generate from UK fans because Montgomery could be a key piece of UK’s 2019-20 team. But I also think Delk must feel confident that Montgomery’s mind is already made up or he wouldn’t say something like that.
I’ll admit I thought there was no chance Montgomery would leave. If he was unhappy playing behind Reid Travis and PJ Washington, he might want to consider that the NBA will have many, many talented players on every roster.
Every NBA-related source I have talked to expected Montgomery back at Kentucky. Maybe I have just talked to the wrong people or maybe Montgomery doesn’t care and just wants to roll the dice and try to play for pay.
At least we will know in a few days what Montgomery is going to do and whether John Calipari will have to implement a Plan B immediately for next season.