Somewhere lost in the surprise commitment of Kevin Knox and the NBA Draft buzz around Hamidou Diallo, UK freshman forward, PJ Washington was overlooked by many people, including myself.
Along with incoming freshman, Nick Richards, Washington was one of the first players to commit to Kentucky’s loaded 2017 recruiting class. Washington and Richards announced their commitments on the same day and signed during the early signing period last November.
Following Richards and Washington were Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox, and Jemarl Baker, who all signed with the Wildcats to round out the nations No. 1 recruiting class.
The big story of the spring was the surprise commitment of Kevin Knox. Knox was considered a Duke lean throughout his recruitment and North Carolina also picked up steam towards the end. However, Knox surprised everyone, even the recruiting gurus, by choosing to join the Wildcats.
Knox wasn’t the only surprise of the spring, as UK redshirt freshman, Hamidou Diallo surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw his name from the 2017 NBA Draft. Diallo had a wide range of possible landing spots, but ultimately decided the best option was to improve with a year at Kentucky.
Somewhere in the midst of all those stories was incoming freshman, PJ Washington. Washington was ranked a 5-star recruit by all recruiting services and Kentucky fans, myself included, being used to multiple five stars, were already saying he would be the sixth or seventh man. That is turning out to be the most unintelligent thing I have said since covering UK athletics.
Washington is on a tear right now for the U-19 USA team in Cairo, Egypt. He and Diallo have led the USA to four wins to open the FIBA World Cup, and Washington has been the most impressive of the bunch.
The 6-8 forward is averaging 16 points and 5.8 rebounds through the first four games of the FIBA World Cup. Washington scored 13 and 11 points vs. Iran and Angola to open pool play, but has since turned it up a notch against better competition.
Washington has scored a total of 40 points the last two days, with back-to-back 20-point performances vs. Italy and Mali. He has been in attack mode every game with 36 of his 40 shot attempts coming from inside the three-point line.
The two things that Washington needs to improve before this season are his free throws and limiting his turnovers. He is shooting 42% from the free throw line in the World Cup. Washington has also committed 14 turnovers, with a game high of 5 vs. Mali on Wednesday morning.
The body, skillset, work ethic, and willingness to listen to Calipari is there for Washington to turn into a star for the Wildcats. A month ago I said he would be a two-year player, but his play in Cairo has changed my opinion. Washington is a special talent and better than most people imagined, including myself.
Image credit to FIBA