As soon as five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt announced his commitment to Kentucky back in December, many basketball recruiting observers opined that his addition likely meant the loss of Kevin Knox, another versatile forward from the class of 2017.
UK already had 6-foot-8 combo forward PJ Washington, who signed in November, and it seems likely that 6-9 forward Wenyen Gabriel and 6-10 forward Sacha Killeya-Jones will be returning to Lexington for their sophomore seasons.
At some point, the roster gets too crowded, right?
Wrong, according to UK Coach John Calipari and the players and parents in the 2017 class.
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Shortly after Vanderbilt’s commitment, Calipari paid a visit to Knox and his family, telling them that he envisioned the 6-9 small forward in more of a perimeter role. He told Knox and his father to watch Malik Monk on this UK team, and picture Knox in that same spot. They’ve been receptive to that pitch.
Washington, who knows Knox from the Nike summer circuit and various camps, is also taking a more-the-merrier approach.
The UK signee visited Lexington for the Kansas game last month. Knox was also in town that weekend, and Washington said he was talking to the uncommitted recruit about teaming up at Kentucky the entire time.
“I felt like he liked it,” Washington said. “I feel like we’re in a higher place than all these other schools, and we’ll be glad to get him if he does choose us.”
Knox took his final official visit, to North Carolina, this weekend, and he’s also considering Duke and Florida State, along with Kentucky.
Washington said he isn’t concerned with how other recruits might affect his own playing time. He just wants the best players at UK.
“I know we’re going to play great together,” he said. “Coach Cal is good with good players, and he’s going to find the right system for all of us to do good things on the court.”
Paul Washington, PJ’s father and the head coach at Findlay Prep (Nev.), has been watching all of UK’s commitments for years and is well familiar with Knox and Vanderbilt. He’s not buying the narrative that they can’t all co-exist at Kentucky.
“For somebody to think that, well that’s just not these kids nowadays. They go where other players go,” Paul Washington said. “It’s not 10 or 20 years ago. Kevin played with PJ at Adidas Nations this summer and they found a way to make it work. I love Kevin’s game. I think he’s a good shooter. I think we need a shooter in this class. He has great size, and I don’t necessarily see why they wouldn’t be able to play together.
“At Kentucky, everybody can play that can play. … That’s the best man in the country to make everybody play.”
Washington on the Wildcats
The Herald-Leader asked PJ Washington to break down each of his future teammates from the class of 2017. Here’s what he had to say:
PJ on Quade Green: “He’s a real, true PG. He does everything that a smaller point guard really needs to do. I feel like he’s going to be great in our system next year. And he’s a dog on the court. He hates to lose, and I just love that about him.”
PJ on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: “Shai is real nice — he can get to the rack and dish. He can shoot it. I feel like he’s slept on a little bit, because people don’t really know him. But I feel like he’s going to have a great year next year.”
PJ on Hamidou Diallo: “His athleticism — he jumps out of the gym. He dunks every time he gets it. It’s crazy. Like, he’ll get a tip dunk and he’ll windmill it or something. I’ve never seen anybody as athletic as he is.”
PJ on Nick Richards: “Blocks everything. Rebounds. Runs the floor. Dunks everything. He’s just great. He reminds me of Willie Cauley-Stein a little bit. He’s real athletic.”
PJ on Jarred Vanderbilt: “I’ve been playing against Jarred since like the third grade, so me and him are really close. We’re brothers. I feel like our games complement each other. He can dribble. He can get everyone involved. He can play the point. And he loves winning. That’s what it’s all about, and he’s a great player.”
All in for Egypt
PJ Washington started all five games for the Team USA U18 squad that won a FIBA gold medal in Chile last summer, but he wasn’t going to try out for the U19 team that will compete in Egypt this July.
Instead, Washington was planning to head to UK first thing in the summer and get acclimated to his new school, teammates and coaches. Then came Thursday’s news that John Calipari is set to be named the head coach of the Team USA U19 squad.
“I’m definitely going now,” Washington told the Herald-Leader. “At first, I didn’t really want to go. But now I really want to, because I can get a little extra coaching in from Cal before the season. And I feel like we need that.”
The team, which will go through tryouts and training camp in Colorado in June before traveling to Cairo, could ultimately include several UK players, as well as top UK targets Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox.
PJ Washington was in pass-first mode again Saturday night, going for 10 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals in Findlay Prep’s 90-65 victory over Tennessee Prep. The UK signee sat out the final 10 minutes of the game, which turned into a blowout early in the second half.
Washington had 23 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks in Friday night’s 94-75 victory over Hopkinsville, the first day of the Kentucky Lake Showcase at Marshall County High School.