If you are the kind of fan who likes some “Kentucky” in your University of Kentucky basketball experience, 2017-18 shapes up as a challenging season.
When seniors Derek Willis (Bullitt East) and Dominique Hawkins (Madison Central) walked off the court in Memphis last March after UK’s heart-wrenching 75-73 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament round of eight, it represented more than an end to the careers of two popular Cats.
It also meant that in 2017-18, a UK men’s basketball roster will have no scholarship player from the state of Kentucky for the first time ever.
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Well, PJ Washington.
On the UK roster, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound freshman lists Dallas as his hometown and Findlay Prep of Las Vegas as his high school alma mater.
Nevertheless, the forward is the closest thing there is to a Kentuckian on scholarship on the 2017-18 Cats.
On Aug. 23, 1998, Washington was born in Louisville.
“I lived there for, like, three months,” Washington says.
Build a lot of memories of Kentucky in those early months, PJ?
“Not really, no,” he said, laughing.
PJ may not have vivid recollections of his first go-round in the commonwealth, but his father, Paul Washington, does.
After Middle Tennessee State University basketball players Paul Washington and Sherry Tucker married, they eventually moved to Louisville when Paul was hired as a salesman by Black and Decker.
“I traveled all over that state,” Paul Washington says of Kentucky. “Pikeville. Paintsville. Owensboro. Lexington. Elizabethtown.”
In Louisville, Paul Washington discovered some things about the commonwealth.
“That Kentucky vs. Louisville, the blue vs. the red, that was hot,” he says. “We were in Louisville, so there was a lot of red. But, man, in the barber shops people would get fired up on the ‘Kentucky vs. Louisville thing.’”
The other thing Paul Washington learned was that The Ville was a great place to pick up the game of golf.
“We lived out by Hurstbourne (Lane) and (playing on) the public golf courses (was) cheap,” Washington said. “So I played a lot of golf. That was where I really learned to play the game.”
After about a year as a Louisville-based salesman, Paul Washington took a job managing a Lowe’s store in Bowling Green.
“I liked Bowling Green, I did,” Paul Washington says. “The people there were really nice. I’ve still got friends there (that) I met then.”
After roughly two years, the Washington family left Kentucky. They moved from Bowling Green to St. Louis to Chicago, Dallas and now Las Vegas, where Paul Washington is the basketball coach at Findlay Prep.
By all reports, the little boy who left Kentucky as an infant has returned to the commonwealth for college as the kind of versatile, heady basketball player the Bluegrass State relishes.
As a member of the John Calipari-coached Team USA that settled for the bronze medal this past summer in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup, PJ Washington was the leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and also averaged 5.1 rebounds.
After Washington produced 21 points, five rebounds and three assists in UK’s Blue-White Game, Calipari said “All I keep saying is ‘more motor, more motor.’ ... When he gets to (playing with more motor), (if) there (are) guys better than him, I’ve got to see it.”
One thing PJ Washington is looking forward to as a UK freshman is a chance to play against Louisville. “I think Kentucky-Louisville is one of the great rivalries in college basketball,” he says.
Well, he talks like a Kentuckian.