How big was PJ Washington in Kentucky’s win against Houston?
When Keldon Johnson was in the eighth grade, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be an NBA player.
As Johnson’s father recalled the exchange, Keldon’s teacher told him that the odds were not great for any young man to play in the NBA.
“She broke it down,” Chris Johnson said Wednesday. “She asked him what was his second thing he wanted to be. He said, ‘I don’t have a second thing. I want to be in the NBA.’”
The likelihood of Johnson beating the considerably shortened odds shrunk some more earlier Wednesday when he was among 66 players named as participants in next week’s NBA Combine.
Two of his Kentucky teammates from this past season will join him at the Chicago-based Combine. PJ Washington and Tyler Herro also were among the invitees.
“He’s happy,” Chris Johnson said of his son’s reaction, “and he’s raring to go.”
Two other UK players who entered their names in this year’s NBA Draft were not among the players on the list. The two were EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Both players kept alive the option of playing for Kentucky next season. The NCAA deadline for withdrawing from the draft and retaining college eligibility is May 29.
Also absent from the Combine list was Reid Travis, who played for Kentucky last season as a graduate transfer from Stanford.
As a sophomore, Washington was UK’s leading scorer (15.2 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg) last season. He also improved dramatically as a perimeter shooter, making a team-best 42.3 percent of his three-point shots. Washington entered his name in the 2018 NBA Draft, and part of the feedback he received involved the need to improve as a shooter.
Herro (14.0 ppg) and Johnson (13.5 ppg) had the second- and third-best scoring averages on Kentucky’s team.
The NBA Combine begins Sunday for players from the league’s G League. Among the invitees to the G League portion of the Combine is former Kentucky player Mychal Mulder, who has played for the Windy City Bulls the last two seasons.
More highly thought of college players — a group that includes the trio from UK — begin their Combine on Wednesday of next week.
The NBA Draft will be June 20 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
For Washington, the Combine will be familiar. In 2018, he participated in all activities: physical exam, agility testing, playing in five-on-five games and interviews with teams. This year he will do everything except the five-on-five games.
Last year, Washington wanted to show NBA teams perimeter skills. He had mostly played in the low post as a UK freshman. He did not have the guidance of an agent.
“I think he’s a lot more prepared, knowing what’s going to happen, than he was last year,” the player’s father, Paul Washington, said.
In 2018, Washington had worked out for teams with several other prospects prior to the Combine, his father said. This year he expects to have more individual workouts for teams later this spring.
Herro’s father marveled at the speed of events.
“He hasn’t been out of high school a year,” Chris Herro said of his son. “And we’re worrying about the NBA, now. It’s exciting. It’s why these kids work so hard. . . .
“It’s nerve-wracking. That’s all I can tell you.”
Three other players from Kentucky schools were on the list of players participating in the NBA Combine. The three are Charles Bassey of Western Kentucky, Ja Morant of Murray State and Jordan Nwora of Louisville.
In addition to the three UK players, 12 other players from Southeastern Conference teams made the list. Those players included Auburn’s Chuma Okeke, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Three sets of SEC teammates made the list: Darius Garland and Simisola Shittu of Vanderbilt, Naz Reid and Tremont Waters of LSU, plus a trio of Tennessee players: Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone.
Other SEC players on the list were Daniel Gafford of Arkansas, Jontay Porter of Missouri, Nicolas Claxton of Georgia and Quinndary Weatherspoon of Mississippi State.