UK Men's Basketball

UK signee PJ Washington ‘excited’ to showcase new skills in Kentucky this week

PJ Washington is the No. 13 overall recruit in the class of 2017, according to the 2017 composite rankings.
PJ Washington is the No. 13 overall recruit in the class of 2017, according to the 2017 composite rankings. Nike

Findlay Prep’s upcoming weekend doubleheader in western Kentucky wasn’t even on the schedule when the Pilots began their season back in November.

A little while after Findlay’s star player, PJ Washington, announced his commitment to UK on Nov. 10, tournament organizers reached out to the Nevada basketball program to see if the future Wildcat might be interested in playing a high school game in Kentucky.

“That’s why we scheduled these games,” said Findlay Prep Coach Paul Washington, who is also PJ’s father. “We’re definitely excited to make it happen in the state of Kentucky and let some of the people in a different part of the state see his game, if they haven’t seen it already.

“He’ll be wearing his Kentucky shirt in warm-ups. He’s ready to go.”

Findlay Prep — ranked No. 6 nationally by USA Today — will bring a 28-3 record and Washington’s growing game to Marshall County High School for the first Kentucky Lake Showcase, an event that also features Arizona signee DeAndre Ayton (the No. 1 recruit in the country) and Duke signee Gary Trent Jr. (the top shooting guard in high school basketball), among other major-college prospects.

Washington’s Pilots will play against Hopkinsville on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CST, and Tennessee Prep on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CST. Tickets for both games will be available at the high school.

With Hamidou Diallo already enrolled at UK for the spring semester, Washington is the top-ranked player from the Cats’ No. 1-ranked recruiting class who’s still in high school. The 6-foot-8 power forward is considered the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he’s one of the most college-ready players in the country.

Washington is averaging about 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists per game this season. He’s long had the reputation as one of the best rebounders in the 2017 class, but Washington went into this season with the goal of becoming a more versatile player, stretching his game to the perimeter in preparation for his time at UK.

“He’s doing awesome,” said Paul Washington. “He really wanted to open up his game, and I think he’s done a great job with that. He’s shooting a lot more perimeter shots — not necessarily just dunks all the time. Hopefully that will carry over to next year.”

In one game this season, both of Findlay Prep’s point guards had to sit out the first half for disciplinary reasons. So Washington — at 6-8 and 235 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan — ran the point.

Paul Washington, in his first season as Findlay’s head coach, said his son brings the ball down the court at certain stages of every game and leads the Pilots in assists.

He’s also shooting about 35 percent from three-point range, leading the team in makes and attempts from long range — this from a player who attempted just 23 three-pointers in 23 games on the Nike circuit last summer and has often been hesitant to try his luck from deep.

Paul Washington says PJ has been doing extra skill work before each of the Pilots’ practices, and he’s seen him get more comfortable away from the basket as the season has progressed.

“Like with anything, it’s confidence,” he said. “Last year, if he missed a shot (from outside), he probably wouldn’t take any more the rest of the game. Now, I can tell with him being more comfortable, it doesn’t matter if he misses or not, he’s still going to pull up and take the next shot.

“He’s always had a nice shot. It was just a matter of him being so hard on himself. But when you shoot 100, 200 shots a day, you’re not upset about that one you missed.”