With at least 20 points in each of his last three games, PJ Washington appears to have turned the corner. Or in Calipari’s words, Washington’s light has turned on.
“You don’t know why the light goes on,” Calipari said after Washington scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds at Vanderbilt, his second straight double-double and sixth this season. “But you see it and you know the light just went on.”
Calipari has waited a year and a half for it to happen. “And I’m not letting him slip back,” he said.
With his sophomore star playing so well, Calipari told Washington he wouldn’t take him out of the game because he didn’t want to “screw this up.” He turned to EJ Montgomery, Washington’s freshman backup, and told him to deal with it.
“I’ve been waiting a year and a half for him to play this way,” he told Montgomery.
Washington’s recent surge was sparked by his attitude and work ethic behind the scenes. Calipari saw it in how Washington had been practicing and now everyone is seeing it in games.
“He’s getting in better shape,” Cal explained. “He’s winning all of the stuff we do when we run and condition — he’s winning.”
Earlier in the year, Washington drew lots of criticism for inconsistencies in his play and his on-court demeanor. Rex Chapman said on a December pregame show that sometimes Washington is caught up in trying to be too cool. He’s at “Cool School,” were Chapman’s exact words, if I’m not mistaken. And Chapman wasn’t the only one to question Washington’s passion.
But now, “there is no coolness,” said Calipari in his postgame comments Tuesday night. “When something goes wrong, he doesn’t go cool now and act like it didn’t matter. Now he bows his neck. The other thing is he’s taking on the challenges.”
“It’s like Willie (Cauley-Stein). It took Willie three years. But we’ve got (NBA) calls that, like, ‘This kid’s the most improved guy, we can’t believe it,’ and that was after going 0 for 4 from the three-point line. It has nothing to do with that stuff. It’s his energy, his anticipation, his athleticism, his aggressiveness. That’s what this stuff is.”