Photo by Chet White, courtesy of UK Athletics
Ever since John Calipari took the job at Kentucky and started his one and done empire, fans have watched some of the most talented freshmen take center stage for college basketballs premiere program. Big name players have turned into stars in the NBA but some take longer to carve their path along college basketballs brightest stage.
Calipari often reminds everyone that players go at their own pace when they arrive at Kentucky and not everyone develops as quickly. That is the case for freshman forward PJ Washington, who is improving with each and every game.
Washington, a five-star forward from the 2017 class, had fans buzzing after a strong summer for Calipari’s U19 FIBA club. The freshman forward, along with teammate Hamidou Diallo, led the US team during their trip to Cairo, Egypt.
After a strong summer, fans expected Washington to transition straight to college and be the dominant player they saw in high school showcases and the FIBA tournament. However, Washington started slow out of the gate and struggled to be a factor offensively.
Through the first 8 games of the season, the UK freshman reached double figures on three occasions, scoring 17 points vs. Vermont, 12 vs. ETSU, and 17 vs. UIC. For those three games, Washington was averaging 15.3 points per game. Meanwhile, through the other five games, he averaged 4.2 points per game, including a two-point performance vs. Kansas.
Despite the ups and downs, Saturday’s performance vs. Monmouth was a positive sight for fans and hopefully an encouraging one for Washington. The freshman did everything right vs. the Hawks, dropping a career-high 20 points, including a perfect 9-of-9 from the free throw line, an area he had struggled in prior to Saturday.
Before Saturday’s free throw performance, Washington was shooting 45.9 percent from the charity stripe. Now his average has climbed to 56.5 percent, still not acceptable but an 83 percent clip over the last three games shows major improvement.
Another issue that Washington was having early on was a high turnover rate. Through the first five games of the season, he turned the ball over a total of 20 times, good enough for an average of five per game. The last four games have been a different story, as Washington has only turned the ball over on five occasions.
If Washington can take care of the basketball, convert on his free throw attempts, and be a factor offensively, he changes the way Kentucky looks. He is a big body that rebounds his position and has also shown the ability to protect the rim after recording four blocks in multiple games this season. Washington is also a capable passer with an average of 2.3 assists per game, including three games with four assists.
Many expected to see a double-double machine from the 6-7 Washington but to this point, his only one was a 17-point, 10 rebound performance vs. Vermont. If he plays aggressive and gets to the free throw line, double-doubles will come and if they do, Kentucky will look completely different.