Mark Story

Why Kentuckians should adopt PJ Washington as their favorite Cat

Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington shoots a jumper over teammate Sacha Killeya-Jones during the UK’s preseason Blue-White Game. On a Wildcats roster with no scholarship player from the state of Kentucky, Washington has the distinction of having been born in Louisville in 1998 when his father, Paul Washington, worked as a salesman for Black and Decker.
Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington shoots a jumper over teammate Sacha Killeya-Jones during the UK’s preseason Blue-White Game. On a Wildcats roster with no scholarship player from the state of Kentucky, Washington has the distinction of having been born in Louisville in 1998 when his father, Paul Washington, worked as a salesman for Black and Decker.

If you are the kind of fan who likes some “Kentucky” in your University of Kentucky basketball experience, 2017-18 shapes up as a challenging season.

When seniors Derek Willis (Bullitt East) and Dominique Hawkins (Madison Central) walked off the court in Memphis last March after UK’s heart-wrenching 75-73 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament round of eight, it represented more than an end to the careers of two popular Cats.

It also meant that in 2017-18, a UK men’s basketball roster will have no scholarship player from the state of Kentucky for the first time ever.

Unless one has an unusually abundant enthusiasm for walk-ons Dillon Pulliam (Harrison County) and Brad Calipari (Lexington Christian), who is a fan who relishes homegrown Wildcats to get behind?

Well, PJ Washington.

UK basketball player PJ Washington talks about his parents' careers in basketball inspiring him to follow in their footsteps.

On the UK roster, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound freshman lists Dallas as his hometown and Findlay Prep of Las Vegas as his high school alma mater.

Nevertheless, the forward is the closest thing there is to a Kentuckian on scholarship on the 2017-18 Cats.

On Aug. 23, 1998, Washington was born in Louisville.

“I lived there for, like, three months,” Washington says.

Build a lot of memories of Kentucky in those early months, PJ?

“Not really, no,” he said, laughing.

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Kentucky freshman PJ Washington averaged a team-high 12.9 points and added 5.1 rebounds for Team USA during its bronze-medal run in the 2017 FIBA U-19 World Cup last summer. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

PJ may not have vivid recollections of his first go-round in the commonwealth, but his father, Paul Washington, does.

After Middle Tennessee State University basketball players Paul Washington and Sherry Tucker married, they eventually moved to Louisville when Paul was hired as a salesman by Black and Decker.

“I traveled all over that state,” Paul Washington says of Kentucky. “Pikeville. Paintsville. Owensboro. Lexington. Elizabethtown.”

In Louisville, Paul Washington discovered some things about the commonwealth.

“That Kentucky vs. Louisville, the blue vs. the red, that was hot,” he says. “We were in Louisville, so there was a lot of red. But, man, in the barber shops people would get fired up on the ‘Kentucky vs. Louisville thing.’”

The other thing Paul Washington learned was that The Ville was a great place to pick up the game of golf.

“We lived out by Hurstbourne (Lane) and (playing on) the public golf courses (was) cheap,” Washington said. “So I played a lot of golf. That was where I really learned to play the game.”

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With the graduation of Bullitt East product Derek Willis (35) and Madison Central alumnus Dominique Hawkins (25), the University of Kentucky has no recruited, scholarship player from the state of Kentucky on its men’s basketball roster in 2017-18 for the first time ever. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

After about a year as a Louisville-based salesman, Paul Washington took a job managing a Lowe’s store in Bowling Green.

“I liked Bowling Green, I did,” Paul Washington says. “The people there were really nice. I’ve still got friends there (that) I met then.”

After roughly two years, the Washington family left Kentucky. They moved from Bowling Green to St. Louis to Chicago, Dallas and now Las Vegas, where Paul Washington is the basketball coach at Findlay Prep.

By all reports, the little boy who left Kentucky as an infant has returned to the commonwealth for college as the kind of versatile, heady basketball player the Bluegrass State relishes.

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UK freshman PJ Washington spent the first months of his life in Kentucky after being born in Louisville. “No memories,” Washington says with a smile. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

As a member of the John Calipari-coached Team USA that settled for the bronze medal this past summer in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup, PJ Washington was the leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and also averaged 5.1 rebounds.

After Washington produced 21 points, five rebounds and three assists in UK’s Blue-White Game, Calipari said “All I keep saying is ‘more motor, more motor.’ ... When he gets to (playing with more motor), (if) there (are) guys better than him, I’ve got to see it.”

One thing PJ Washington is looking forward to as a UK freshman is a chance to play against Louisville. “I think Kentucky-Louisville is one of the great rivalries in college basketball,” he says.

Well, he talks like a Kentuckian.

PJ Washington says he will try to grant Coach Cal's wish of playing with a "higher motor."

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