Sidelines with John Clay

PJ Washington’s dip into draft pool gives Kentucky cause for concern

Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington (25) fought for a loose ball during UK’s 95-75 win over Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at Taco Bell Arena in Boise.
Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington (25) fought for a loose ball during UK’s 95-75 win over Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Under the current rule, adopted last year, it makes sense for most if not all college basketball players to at least place themselves in consideration for the NBA draft.

Still, it was a bit jarring when PJ Washington’s name popped up Tuesday night as the Kentucky forward announced that he will go through the draft evaluation process, though the 6-foot-9 forward who just completed his freshman season, will not hire an agent.

“I guess the real answer is, why not?” PJ’s father Paul Washington told the Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton on Tuesday night.

Maybe the Washington news is a bit of surprise since he was believed to be farther down the NBA list from teammates Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo.

[Mean-muggin: The origination of PJ Washington’s trademark look]

ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony’s latest draft prospect rankings has Gilgeous-Alexander No. 12 on his top 100 list. He has Knox at No. 14. Diallo is at No. 35. Washington is at No. 47. Jarred Vanderbilt is at 64.

In his meeting with Knox, UK coach John Calipari reportedly laid out the advantages of the Tampa native remaining in school for another season. Despite the program’s reputation, that would not be unprecedented. For example, Terrence Jones stuck around for his sophomore year and helped UK win a national title in 2012.

Knox’s father has indicated his son will make his decision no later than Friday. There was buzz that Gilgeous-Alexander would make some sort of announcement on Tuesday. That didn’t happen.

Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 27.4 minutes per game this past season. He shot 51.9 percent from the floor and 60.6 percent from the foul line, including that eight-for-20 showing in UK’s 61-58 loss to Kansas State in a South Regional semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.

Apparently, Washington was playing late in the season with a broken finger. He plans to have surgery after the NBA combine, if invited. The combine takes place May 16-20 in Chicago. The draft is June 21.

The guess here is Washington returns to campus for 2018-19, but the fact he was so eager to put his name into draft consideration has to give UK fans pause.

To the links:

▪ A regular season record crowd showed up at Cliff Hagan Stadium to see Kentucky baseball beat Louisville 8-5 in a wind-swept, error-filled affair. UK’s bullpen was the star of the show, not allowing did an earned run over the game’s final 5.2 innings as the Cats improved to 20-9 this season. South Carolina visits Lexington for a three-game series this weekend.

▪ Kentucky’s quarterbacks delivered a dud in the first football scrimmage. How long will it take holdover Gunnar Hoak and newcomer Terry Wilson to master the learning curve of Eddie Gran’s offense?

▪ Ex-UK center Nerlens Noel was suspended for the final five games of the NBA regular season for a drug violation. The Dallas Mavericks center was reportedly contrite with head coach Rick Carlisle about the suspension.

▪ Kentucky basketball finished 17th in the final Ken Pomeroy efficiency rankings. UK wound up 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. At No. 13 overall, Tennessee was the highest-ranked SEC team in the ratings.

▪ Louisville’s Ray Spalding is entering the NBA draft and hiring an agent. As a junior, Spalding averaged 12.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game this past season. The former Louisville Trinity star averaged 5.9 points per game as a sophomore and 5.6 as a freshman.

▪ Time for the annual “Battle of the Bluegrass” at John Cropp Stadium as Kentucky softball welcomes Louisville for a 7 p.m. start on the SEC Network on Wednesday. UK tuned up by blanking Eastern Kentucky 10-0 on Tuesday.

Ken Pomeroy’s final top 20

  • 1. Villanova
  • 2. Virginia
  • 3. Duke
  • 4. Cincinnati
  • 5. Purdue
  • 6. Michigan State
  • 7. Michigan
  • 8. North Carolina
  • 9. Kansas
  • 10. Gonzaga
  • 11. Texas Tech
  • 12. West Virginia
  • 13. Tennessee
  • 14. Clemson
  • 15. Xavier
  • 16. Ohio State
  • 17. Kentucky
  • 18. Houston
  • 19. Penn State
  • 20. Butler
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