By LARRY VAUGHT
I know most of us believe that EJ Montgomery would have been better off coming back to Kentucky for a junior season rather than putting his name into the NBA draft.
That feeling was only reinforced when word came out that Montgomery was not on the list of players who might get an invite to the NBA combine.
However, before you write off Montgomery’s potential professional career, think back to three recent players many also felt made a mistake leaving UK when they did and have found a way to get their foot in the NBA door.
— Hamidou Diallo averaged 10 points and 3.6 rebounds per game his freshman year at Kentucky. He had dynamic athleticism but not a potent set of offensive skills. Still, Brooklyn took him with the 45th pick of the 2018 draft before he was traded to Charlotte and then Oklahoma City. He won the2019 Slam Dunk Contest. He played in 51 games his rookie season averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds per game and in 38 games this year he has averaged 6.1 points and 3.2 rebounds.
— Jarred Vanderbilt played in just 14 games for Kentucky his freshman season because of injuries. He averaged 5.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 17 minutes per game but still declared for the 2018 draft where Orlando picked him 41st and then traded him to Denver. He’s now with Minnesota and has played in 28 career games averaging 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.
— Wenyen Gabriel stayed two years at Kentucky. He averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a freshman and 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sophomore when he also led UK with 40 blocks. He could be a knockdown 3-point shooter but was not physical and often a defensive liability. He was not picked in the 2018 draft but signed a two-way contract with Sacramento. He did not play in a NBA game in 2018-19 or 2019-20. But he was traded to Portland in January and is on Portland’s playoff roster.
So before you write off Montgomery or say he’s wrong for doing what he did, remember he’s got to do what he has to do. Maybe being a pro will ignite a new fire in him. He’s going to have to work — and work a lot. He likely will have to follow the path Gabriel did to get a chance.
But could he make it? Sure he could because it was not long ago that many of us wondered if Diallo, Vanderbilt and Gabriel could find a spot in the NBA.