PJ Washington: Competitiveness ‘a lot different’ for UK this season
Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 100-64 Bahamas beatdown of (not so) Mega Bemax at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island:
1. Wait for it, wait for it ... here come the overreactions.
Given its performances in the first three games of this four-game exhibition series in the fun and sun of the Bahamas, surely this 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team is not just a lock for the national title — call off the tournament — but one of the greatest teams of all-time. (We kid.)
OK, it’s hard not to overreact to the way this nearly entirely new group of Cats have performed against three different older, if not as talented opponents, inside the Bahamas ballroom. They rallied from a brief deficit to roll over the Bahamas Select team on Wednesday. They dominated San Lorenzo del Amagro on Thursday. And though (not so) Mega Bemax was vastly overrated coming in, the Cats impressively went from blackout to blowout, as they drilled the Serbian squad by 36 points.
The best thing about the whole experience is not John Calipari’s fantasy camp, or the fact that the SEC Network’s dynamic duo of analysts, Dan “The Kentucky media is always whining about me” Dakich and Seth Greenberg, actually stuck to the game before them, but that John Calipari got 10 practices to prepare his team, then a week of bonding and experience for his young Cats well before official practice begins.
2. For PJ Washington, the third game was the charm.
The sophomore forward led the way with 20 points and 12 rebounds. He was six of 10 from the floor, seven of 12 from the foul line and even buried a three-pointer from the left corner. Which all but confirmed my contention that PJ will be PP this season, as in Patrick Patterson in 2009-10, his first season under Calipari and his last season at Kentucky.
Best of all, Washington was active on both ends of the floor. On offense, he got himself to the foul line. On defense, he blocked four shots. In transition, he ran the floor, at one point slamming home a perfect lob from Quade Green. (Green had a nice game, as well.)
Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis gained a lot of attention when news broke the power forward was headed to UK. There was reason for that, given Travis averaged 19 points and eight rebounds per game last year in the Pac-12. But on the small sample size of three games, Travis isn’t likely to unseat Washington for a starting spot. In fact, it appears the two should complement each other well.
3. If you’ve noticed, those three-pointers are starting to go in.
After going 2-for-20 from three-point range on Wednesday, the Cats have shown dramatic improvement the last two games. They were 7-for-12 against San Lorezno and finished seven of 14 from beyond the arc against (not so) Mega Bemax.
Tyler Herro was 2-for-4 from three, hitting back-to-back three-pointers late in the second half. Immanuel Quickley was a perfect 2-for-2. Quade Green and Keldon Johnson were each 1-for-2. And, as previously stated, PJ Washington drilled a triple from the corner.
This was accomplished without heralded sharpshooter Jemarl Baker, whose knee swelling has kept him out of the first three games and will keep him out of Sunday’s finale. Baker did not play at all last season after two knee surgeries. The hope is he’ll be ready to go by the official start of practice in October. Even if he’s not, the Cats have shown, on the islands anyway, that they are capable of being a better three-point shooting team than last year’s club.