By LARRY VAUGHT
Just as most expected, Las Vegas power forward P.J. Washington announced Thursday on ESPNU that he would play for coach John Calipari at Kentucky.
The 6-8 Washington is considered one of the best, if not the best, rebounders in the 2016 recruiting class. He chose UK over North Carolina and Nevada-Las Vegas. He has a 7-3 wing span which helps make him such a dominant rebounder. He averaged 10.9 boards per game to go along with a 17.4 scoring average during the summer in the Nike EYBL.
Washington is ranked as the nation’s 16th best player by ESPN.com and is a consensus top 20 player and five-star prospect.
He has elite athleticism and is a strong finisher around the basket. He can also step outside and hit a jumper as well as defend on the perimeter.
He should team well with 6-11 center Nick Richards of New Jersey who committed to UK a few hours before Washington did the same. The Cats did lose wing target John Petty of Alabama who announced during halftime of his game Thursday night that he would sign with Alabama.
Washington was hosted on his official visit to UK in September by freshman Bam Adebayo. He had also made an unofficial visit to UK as a junior and then came back again last month for Big Blue Madness because his father, Paul Washington, thought it was important for him to see the Rupp Arena atmosphere.
“But he has not seen the fans and what that looks like. Madness is a great opportunity to do that in Rupp Arena. He will kind of get the college atmosphere that way,” Paul Washington said before they made that visit.
“P.J. has played at a lot higher level than I did. He has played for USA Basketball in Chile. He’s been playing at a high level since ninth grade. He’s been in big venues, but not in a place like Kentucky where it is packed every game.”
Paul Washington, who played at Middle Tennessee, is his son’s coach at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas.
The Washingtons made sure to meet UK academic advisors and university officials during their official visit. Both Sherry and Paul Washington have business degrees and want him to do the same.
“Him getting a degree is as important to us as getting a scholarship,” Paul Washington said. “Whether he is done playing in one year or four years, we want to make sure he gets a degree. He understands the academic side of things.”
He also understands what to do on the court. His father describes him as a “positionless” player, the kind of player Calipari likes to have on his team.
“He can kind of do a lot of things,” Paul Washington said. “He can guard from 1 (point guard) through 4 (power forward) or 5 (center). He fits in where you need him at the time.
“For Team USA and at his previous high school, he played power forward. He is more like Draymond Green (of the Golden State Warriors) where he can kind of do it all.”