UK Men's Basketball

PJ Washington says second season at Kentucky served its purpose

PJ Washington ‘definitely where I want to be’ after second season at Kentucky

Kentucky's PJ Washington could serve as an example of how a second college season can pay off, but he said most players are looking to make it to the NBA as soon as possible.
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Kentucky's PJ Washington could serve as an example of how a second college season can pay off, but he said most players are looking to make it to the NBA as soon as possible.

A happy and content PJ Washington met with the media Friday at the NBA Combine. Wearing a red sweatsuit — “I just wear what they give me,” he said) — Washington seemed to embody the comfort that comes with having a decision validated.

Of course, that decision was to return to Kentucky for a sophomore season after going through the pre-NBA Draft process last year.

“I feel I grew in every aspect,” he said. “That was the main (reason) to go back. To better myself and better my game.”

In this year’s draft, Washington is considered a first-round pick, maybe a late-lottery selection. Neither was the case in 2018.

That makes Washington a role model for players who might enter a NBA Draft and then ponder a return to college. Such a move is not only OK, but can be wise.

If Washington can be a role model, he suggested it’s not automatic that he will have followers.

“I feel like pretty much everybody coming up wants to get in the league as quick as possible,” he said. “It’s really all about just developing your skill set (and) going when you’re ready. I feel a lot of people forget that. I feel I was a really good mold of that this year.”

Two of his Kentucky teammates seemed to be candidates to study Washington’s example. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards entered their names in this year’s NBA Draft. Neither was invited to the Combine. Both have room for improvement.

ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz said Thursday that Montgomery needed to develop an on-court identity while Richards needed to play with a more consistent motor.

“I haven’t really talked to them,” Washington said. “I feel like the best thing for them is to just talk to the people around them the most. And talk to Coach (John Calipari) as well. I feel Coach has done a great job with all of us. He wouldn’t lie to them. …

“Their decision is for them, and my decision was for me.”

When asked if any player, a UK teammate or someone from another program, had asked him to share his experience with them, Washington said, “Nah. Nobody’s asked me about that one.”

During the pre-draft process last year, NBA officials advised Washington to work on his perimeter shooting and increase his strength. His improvement in those areas this past season was impossible to miss. He led UK in three-point shooting accuracy.

“When I came back, I just made a commitment to myself that I was going to try to get better each and every day,” Washington said. “Work on some of the things that they told me to work on. I feel I did a great job of that. … I feel I pretty much earned myself to be here.”

In making the decision to return, Washington said he spoke with his parents and the UK coaches.

“They basically sat me down and talked to me,” he said. “They told me their opinions, and I kind of formulated my own. And, obviously, I feel I made the best decision for me.”

In addition to improving as a player, Washington said he took on more of a leadership role this past season. This included interpreting Calipari’s, uh, high-volume urgings.

“Cal kind of screams at you all the time,” Washington said. “People don’t really react to it (well). I just tried to be the guy that when he screams at you, I’m there to tell you he still has confidence in you.

“I’ve been screamed at my whole life. So I was used to it.”

During the Combine, he interviewed with 13 NBA teams, Washington said. He likened it to job interviews. One of his favorite interviews was with the San Antonio Spurs, he said. He did not elaborate.

Washington acknowledged how the interviews with teams can become repetitious.

“Pretty much saying the same thing over and over again,” he said before quipping, “Pretty much (like) all year with the media. I’m used to it.”

So everything had gone well. Washington could serve as a role model for how another college season can be worthwhile.

But there can be too much of a good thing.

When asked if the feedback he heard this week had been discouraging, would he have opted to return to Kentucky for a third season, Washington said, “Nah.”

Then after a pause, he asked the reporter, “Do you think I should have gone back?”