UK Men's Basketball

Pass-first PJ Washington gives Kentucky a sneak peek at his all-around game

Rarely is a 6-foot-8, 235-pound high school basketball recruit with five stars next to his name referred to as a pass-first player.

PJ Washington sure looked like one Friday night.

The University of Kentucky signee threw down a thunderous dunk less than two minutes into his first on-court appearance in the state since committing to the Wildcats last fall, and he was gobbling up rebounds from the get-go.

But it was his court vision and team-first play that set the tone for Findlay Prep (Nev.) in its 94-75 victory over Hopkinsville on the first night of the Kentucky Lake Showcase at Marshall County High School.

There was a reason for that, beyond the fact that Washington is simply one of the best passers among frontcourt players in high school basketball.

“This year, my dad said if I get a triple-double, I get a reward,” he said. “So that’s what I’ve been trying to do every game. I’ve been trying to pass the ball first. And then get buckets later.”

What kind of reward?

“Money,” Washington replied.

Paul Washington, the player’s father and Findlay Prep’s head coach, confirmed that, saying he forks over about $100 every time his son gets a triple-double.

PJ came up just short in Friday’s victory, with an official stat line of 23 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots. The Findlay Prep scorekeeper had him with nine assists, just shy of a nice payday for an 18-year-old kid.

“Man, I was mad about it, too,” PJ said with a smile.

Washington — ranked by as the No. 1 power forward and No. 13 overall prospect in the 2017 class — is one of the most versatile, college-ready players in the country, and John Calipari has to be salivating at the thought of putting such an unselfish young prospect on another UK team stacked with five-star recruits.

When UK officially announced its early signing class in November, Calipari called Washington an “alpha dog” on the court.

“I’m not trying to hype him up because I don’t do that, but he’s a combination between Trey Lyles and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist,” said the UK coach. “He’s a physically strong player. I want him to come in here and lead and be an attack dog.”

Washington, who was born in Louisville but grew up in Texas before moving to Nevada to join the perennial powerhouse Findlay Prep program, showed a little bit of everything in his return to his past and future home state.

He started things off in the pregame layup line, knocking down three-pointers and throwing down dunks while wearing a gray UK shirt over his Findlay uniform.

In the first few minutes of the game itself, Washington had a dunk, a floater, a corner three-pointer, several rebounds and a few pretty passes that led to buckets.

He blocked three shots in the second quarter, dished out four assists in the third quarter and finished the game strong despite picking up his fourth foul with 7:40 left.

“PJ’s a ballplayer — an old-school ballplayer,” his father said. “You roll the ball out, and he’s going to find a way to get you a double-double. I’m one of those parents and coaches that, when Kentucky offered a scholarship and we talked about him playing there, I never once asked, ‘What position?’ Or when they signed somebody else, ‘What impact does that have on my kid.’ It doesn’t matter. PJ’s a tough individual. He’ll find a way to get out on the floor.”

Washington is a key part of another No. 1 recruiting class that already includes point guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, small forward Jarred Vanderbilt and post player Nick Richards.

Calipari hopes the Cats aren’t done yet.

UK is still recruiting 7-footer Mohamed Bamba and 6-9 forward Kevin Knox, two of Washington’s friends from the Nike circuit and Team USA camps, and two of the top-10 prospects in the class of 2017.

Washington, ever unselfish, said playing time would sort itself out once everyone gets to campus. He wants Bamba and Knox on his team next season, and he said he’s been in the ear of both players about joining him in Lexington.

“It’s great,” Washington said of UK’s 2017 class, “but we still need two more. And I feel like we’re close to getting them. … I’m working on it.”

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