A deeper look into PJ Washington’s breakout season
As a freshman PJ Washington came to Kentucky as a highly touted five-star recruit without a clearly defined position for his future. In his rookie season with the Cats he played under the basket the majority of the time while Kevin Knox was the face up forward on the floor. PJ clearly had potential and upside which is what intrigued scouts at the NBA draft combine. Had he chosen to stay in the draft he may have been selected late in the 1st round or early in the 2nd round. Ultimately he decided to withdraw from the draft and return to Kentucky.
As Cal often says, “not everyone is on the same path” and that proved true for PJ. There have been players that have come to Kentucky with the idea that they would be a one and done player, only to find out that their plans may not become reality. Some have really struggled as they began to realize the fact that they are not on the path that they thought they were going to be on. There is a light that clicks when players finally accept their path and are no longer worried about their plans that they had before they came to college. Several players have had to return for a second season or more and many never overcome the initial shock that they were not as good as they though they would be. Much to the credit of PJ Washington, he accepted the path he was on and put his nose to the grindstone intent on getting better. There was no hanging his head from him and that has paid huge dividends this season.
A quick look at his numbers and it reveals that PJ has improved in every statistical category this season.
He has also been a leader on and off the court for the team. His improvement from the 3-point line has been the most impressive statistical improvement that I can ever remember seeing at Kentucky. He is currently ranked as the 5th highest single season 3-point percentage in Kentucky history with a minimum of 65 attempts. He has also improved his ability to beat his man off the dribble when they step out to defend his shot from deep. After the win against Auburn he talked a lot about his decision to return to Kentucky and the work he put in to transform his game.
In my opinion PJ Washington is the SEC player of they year by a long shot. He is also in the process of making himself the poster child for the argument that guys can come back and improve their draft stock with another season. Tyler Ulis had a firm grasp on being the best sophomore that Cal has had at Kentucky but PJ is making that a lot harder to say.
PJ’s freshman season ended with one of his most dominant games as he put up 18 points and 15 rebounds in the Sweet Sixteen. Yet it was also a game of disappointment for him as he struggled from the free throw line, making just 8 of 20 from the stripe. Nazr Mohammed once went 0-6 from the free throw line in a championship game loss to Arizona, only to lead the Cats to a title the next season. I was reminded of that game after PJ’s tough night last year and I wondered if PJ couldn’t do the same thing that Nazr did the next year. PJ and Nazr play a different style but the massive improvement from one season to the next is very similar. This team is very balanced but if they are going to cut down some nets in April it will be largely due to PJ Washington and all the work he put in during the off-season.