UK Men's Basketball

Stay tuned: PJ Washington says NBA will see more than he showed at Kentucky

PJ Washington said he set out to expand NBA teams’ knowledge during his pre-draft workouts. “I feel like in college I really didn’t show my full game,” the former Kentucky forward said.
PJ Washington said he set out to expand NBA teams’ knowledge during his pre-draft workouts. “I feel like in college I really didn’t show my full game,” the former Kentucky forward said. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Befitting someone who goes by his initials, PJ Washington said Wednesday that he did not show everything in two seasons for Kentucky. He said he went into his pre-draft workouts hoping to make NBA teams understand his versatile game has dimensions untapped by UK.

“Just my ability to do different things on the floor,” Paul Jamaine Washington Jr., said of his goal for workouts. “I feel like in college I really didn’t show my full game. So I just tried to come in and show that.”

Speaking at a pre-draft media session Wednesday, Washington said he worked out for Miami, Orlando, Minnesota and Atlanta. Those teams are slotted to pick 13th (Miami), 16th (Orlando), 11th (Minnesota) and eighth and 10th (Atlanta) in Thursday’s NBA Draft. That fits the range Washington expects to hear his name. “My agent said anywhere from nine to 15,” he said.

SI.com has projected Washington being picked by Miami with that 13th pick. But the website said that the Heat could pick either of the other two UK players in the draft, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.

“Washington seems to have enough fans that it’s easy to see him winding up anywhere in the late lottery, worst-case being a soft landing spot in the teens,” SI.com said. “He’s made strides skill-wise and profiles as a solid front-court piece, particularly if his jump shot continues to improve. Teams view him as a relatively safe bet to be a contributor, and he’s athletic and versatile enough to fit into different types of lineups. His strengths feel like a fit for Miami.”

Of course, Washington has become known for showing that a player can benefit by returning to college for another season. He entered the 2018 NBA Draft, then decided to withdraw and return to UK for a sophomore season. Although he said he did not show the full range of his basketball talents at UK, Washington added that the return was beneficial.

“Yeah, it definitely benefited me,” he said. “I feel like I went back and did pretty much everything I needed to do. A lot of people coming out were saying that my shot wasn’t really good. So I went back and tried to work on stuff like that. I feel like I am in a lot better position than I would have been last year.”

Washington greatly improved as a three-point shooter. As a freshman, he made five of 21 three-point shots (23.8-percent accuracy). As a sophomore, he made 33 of 78 (a team-best 42.3-percent accuracy).

When asked what areas of his game he upgraded besides perimeter shooting last season, Washington said, “Pretty much everything, honestly. I feel like I am improving every step of the way. The biggest thing was just the amount of work that I put in.”

Washington said he had thanked UK Coach John Calipari for his guidance the last two years. “When I got my green room invite, he texted me,” Washington said. “I just thanked him for everything. I’m just excited to have a guy like that on my side, and thankful for everything he has done for me.

“And I’m excited to watch the team this coming year.”

But more immediately, there is the NBA Draft to experience. When asked if the reality of the draft was sinking in, Washington quipped, “Yeah, especially with all of the media in my face right now.” He laughed before adding, “It’s definitely exciting to be here. I”m happy, excited. I’m just ready for it all to begin.”

Of hearing his name called and shaking NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, Washington said, “I don’t think I’m going to cry. But I’ll be excited. I think my family is going to cry. But excitement is the biggest thing. I feel like everybody is happy right now, but a little anxious.”

Washington dismissed the possibility of being star-struck at the NBA level.

“I’m just excited to be on this stage, and play against great players,” he said, “and just go out there and see how I measure up against them.”

2019 NBA Draft

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV: ESPN

No. 1 pick: New Orleans Pelicans

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