Language barrier can’t stop UK basketball’s premier trash talker
PJ Washington offered a simple explanation for why tempers flared for a second time Saturday in Kentucky’s three exhibition games here.
“Keldon likes to talk trash,” he said of freshman Keldon Johnson. “So we just got to back him up. I mean, that’s pretty much the (common) denominator out of it.”
Johnson acknowledged that he is fluent in trash talk.
“Just being the player I am, like a competitor,” he said. “It just comes with trash talking.”
The language barrier in Kentucky’s game against the Serbia-based Mega Bemax on Saturday could be surmounted.
“They understand body language,” Johnson said. “They get the gist of what we’re saying.”
Johnson is an equal opportunity trash talker. And there apparently is no off switch.
“Every day in practice,” Washington said. “Every day on the court. Even in shootarounds. That’s all he does. We’re used to it, now.”
What does Johnson say?
“Talking about how good he is,” Washington said with a chuckle. “People can’t guard him.”
Johnson did not dispute Washington’s version.
“I talk trash in practices, too,” he said. “It puts my teammates to another level.”
Johnson said he’s only getting started with the trash talking. And, he added, he would not, say, talk about someone’s mother.
“That’s personal,” he said. “I try to stay away from that.”
Johnson traced his trash talking to childhood.
“I had two big brothers,” he said. “So we were always, like, battling in the backyard. So we always talked trash.”
Who PJ is
Washington led Kentucky with a double-double: 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“That’s got to be who he is,” assistant coach Joel Justus said. “He’s a high-motor guy who is a two-way player who can play all over (the court). He can handle (the ball). He can score. He can distribute. And I think that’s what he’s starting to show.”
Dunk or trey?
A reporter asked Washington which was the greater thrill: A high-flying dunk or the three-point shot he made from the left corner?
“Probably the dunk,” he said.
Washington made only five of 21 three-point shots last season. It was believed the feedback he got from NBA people earlier this year included advice to work on his perimeter skills.
“It felt good just knocking down a three,” he said. “Just being in a rhythm and just letting it fly. It felt great. I’ve been working on it the whole summer. So to see one go in is definitely a confidence builder.”
Before UK came to the Bahamas, Coach John Calipari tempered enthusiasm by saying the team could lose as many as three of its four exhibition games.
“I don’t know what he was talking about,” Washington said after UK improved its record to 3-0. “We definitely didn’t come out here to lose.”
Mega Bemax made only four of 27 three-point shots. That followed dismal long-range shooting by the Bahamas Select Team (five of 25) and San Lorenzo de Almagro (four of 18).
So UK’s first three opponents have made a combined 13 of 70 three-point shots (18.6 percent).
“Our guys take tremendous pride in their personal performance on defense,” Justus said.
First in line
More than an hour before the doors opened (and more than two hours before tip-off), there was a long line of UK fans.
Four members of the Stephens family arrived at 2:45 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game.
This begged a question: Why?
“To be first in line,” said Ron Stephens, the grandfather of the group.
“To get good seats,” said Michael Stephens, the older of the two grandsons in the group.
Michael had thought out what would constitute good seats: two rows up, mid-court, on the players’ side.
The Stephens group, which included grandmother Sharon and younger grandson Jordan, used trial and error to be first in time. They arrived at 5:30 p.m. for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game. “We were 300 seats back,” Michael said. “We didn’t let that happen again.”
They came at 3:30 p.m. for Thursday’s game. That was not early enough.
When asked how they spent the time waiting, Michael said they talked to each other and others who came later. The next people in line came at 3 p.m., Michael said.
They played cards. Texas hold ‘em with no betting and crazy eights. A television would have been nice. And water to drink, Ron said.
The Stephens liked what they saw in the first two games. Ron noted UK’s unselfish play.
“They don’t look for the shot,” he said. “They look for their teammates. ‘I’m not for me. I’m for the team.’”
The Stephens call Lexington home. Michael will be a junior at UK this coming school year. He is an engineering major. Jordan will be a freshman at Columbia College in Missouri. He will play lacrosse.