UK Men's Basketball

Top power forward P.J. Washington has Kentucky roots, and UK wants him for 2017

P.J. Washington averaged 17.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game for Team Penny during the Nike EYBL regular season this spring.
P.J. Washington averaged 17.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game for Team Penny during the Nike EYBL regular season this spring.

Long before his son became one of John Calipari’s top recruiting targets, Paul Washington was plenty familiar with the state of Kentucky.

“I’ve been all over the state, man,” Washington told the Herald-Leader. “Paintsville, Pikeville, Owensboro, Lexington. Literally all over the state.”

Washington — the father of five-star prospect P.J. Washington — was a sales representative for Black & Decker after finishing up college at Middle Tennessee State, living for about two years in both Louisville and Bowling Green.

He and his wife, Sherry, both played basketball for MTSU, and P.J. was born while the family was in Louisville.

The basketball-loving Washingtons enjoyed their time in the Bluegrass.

“It’s a basketball state, for sure,” Washington said. “You were either red or you were blue. No ifs, ands, buts about it. And, back then, Rick Pitino was at Kentucky. So I’m really messed up when I go back there now. It’s all backwards.”

Paul Washington — a native of Michigan — said he grew up a Wolverines fan and stuck with his program during his time in Kentucky, choosing not to enter the Cats-or-Cards fray.

This is a big decision, and you can’t just make it off of emotions.

Paul Washington, on his son’s recruitment

Nearly 20 years later, he’s becoming a fan of UK’s program, thanks to its recruitment of his son and the family’s budding relationship with the Wildcats’ coaching staff.

Washington called John Calipari “a great guy,” but it’s assistant coach Kenny Payne who is doing most of the work in UK’s recruitment of P.J. Washington, ranked by as the No. 1 power forward and No. 14 overall player in the class of 2017.

P.J. told the Herald-Leader recently that Payne had become like another family member to the Washingtons.

“He talks more than just basketball,” Paul said. “He talks to P.J. about his school, his attitude, the way he looks at the game. If he didn’t choose Kentucky, I feel like Kenny would still continue to have an impact on P.J. somewhere down the line. That means a lot.

“A lot of coaches, after they figure out they’re not on the list, you don’t hear from them. In the beginning, they act like they really care. And then when they feel like their school’s not in your top five, all of a sudden you don’t hear anything from them. I don’t get that vibe from Kenny Payne.”

Arizona, North Carolina and Texas are the other three schools that P.J. regularly mentions as the programs recruiting him the hardest.

The 6-foot-7, 232-pound prospect — now living in Las Vegas and playing for national powerhouse Findlay Prep — has had a tremendous spring on the Nike circuit, averaging a double-double during the regular season and leading his Team Penny squad to a berth in the Peach Jam semifinals. He also made the first cut for the Team USA U18 squad that will compete for a FIBA gold medal in Chile later this month.

Shortly before his breakout spring began, Washington started hearing more from UK’s coaches.

He has quickly emerged as one of the Wildcats’ top frontcourt priorities in the class of 2017, and he’ll take at least two visits to Lexington over the next few months.

One of those trips will be for Big Blue Madness, the season-opening spectacle in October that draws several five-star recruits every year.

“We’ll be there, but it won’t be an official visit,” said Paul Washington. “We want it to be about him when he comes for his official visit, so we can really see the campus. … But he doesn’t want to miss that event, so I’ll pay on that one. I’m saving up now.”

Recruits can take as many unofficial visits (where the family must pay the expenses) as they want, but they’re allowed only five official visits (where the host school foots most of the bill).

With so many recruits in town for Madness, the UK coaches rarely have much one-on-one time with their visitors. That’s why the Washingtons intend to take a more in-depth tour of the city and campus on a different date.

P.J. said Friday that he would like to make a college announcement by December or January, but his father stressed that his son plans to take all five of his official visits, and they won’t be making any hasty decisions.

“We’re not in a hurry,” he said. “If a school can’t wait that long, then it might not be the right one for him. … This is a life-long decision for him. This is probably where he’s going to come back and get his degree. This is where he might find his future wife. People from that state are going to know him.

“This is a big decision, and you can’t just make it off of emotions.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats