Kentucky forward PJ Washington is officially back, and the Big Blue Nation is celebrating accordingly.
After going through the draft evaluation process, the newest Wildcat sophomore decided to come back to school to up his draft stock and win a national title.
Here is what Washington’s return means for Kentucky going forward:
No worries about the frontcourt
Before Washington’s decision, Kentucky only had two players locked in for the 2018-19 frontcourt: Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. With Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard transferring out of the program, the uncertainty behind Richards’ development, and Montgomery being a freshman with zero experience, there were obvious concerns.
At various points of the process, all three of Kentucky’s potential NBA guys were rumored to leave. Obviously John Calipari would’ve found a replacement on the grad-transfer market, but had all three left, leaving an extremely thin frontcourt to chance was a bit scary.
With Washington back, you can breathe a sigh of relief. There’s a guarantee in the frontcourt to anchor the middle, no matter who else stays or goes. A darn good one, at that. And with teams as young as Kentucky’s year after year, constants are absolutely beautiful when others experience growing pains.
Beyond Washington, Richards, and Montgomery, if Reid Travis joins (as expected), the Cats will have two absolute bullies in the frontcourt to work with.
One player who went up against Reid Travis in an NBA workout recently: “He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever played against.”
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) May 30, 2018
Sounds like a whole lot of flexin’, to me.
The frontcourt looks great right now. Get one or both of Vando and Travis, we’re talking about one of the most loaded rosters in college basketball.
Guarantees a Final Four-caliber roster
To build off of the previous subheading, Washington’s return guarantees a loaded roster absolutely capable of making a run to the Final Four next March.
And it was a big reason why PJ decided to come back for round two.
“One of my goals is to win a national championship in college, and that’s what I want to do next season at Kentucky,” he said. “I believe with who we have coming back and who we have coming in that we can do that.”
When you go down the list, he’s pretty spot on.
This is what Kentucky’s roster looks like as of now:
Ashton Hagans, Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and PJ Washington.
Elite guard play? Check.
Skilled frontcourt? Check
And there’s a strong chance the Cats will add one or two more to that list.
We talked before about Stanford transfer Reid Travis and how Kentucky is the runaway favorite to land him. As a First-Team Pac-12 player averaging 20 points and eight rebounds a game last season, he’d almost certainly start from the get-go. He’s a superstar. Add in Jarred Vanderbilt, and you can go ahead and pencil the Cats in as preseason No. 1.
SEC Player of the Year candidate with tournament experience
Most people focus on Washington’s devastating 8-20 performance from the line against Kansas State in the Sweet 16. Though it stung and likely kept the Cats from finishing off a run to the Final Four, it doesn’t tell the entire story of just how impressive Washington was to end the year.
The Kentucky sophomore was finding his groove in a major way, proving to be one of the team’s most consistent scoring and rebounding threats on the roster. To finish out the season, Washington finished in double-digits in 11 of Kentucky’s final 12 games, to go with at least five rebounds in each of those 11. He averaged 11 points and six rebounds throughout the season, but ended the year averaging 13 and seven in the final 12 contests, including performances of 18-15, 14-8, 18-7, and 13-10.
When Washington took advantage of his size and strength last season, he was unstoppable. If he can continue to develop that killer instinct in the post, along with show off an improved jumper, Washington has the potential to take home SEC Player of the Year honors.
There will be more experience next season, but the freshmen will need guys to take them under their wing and show them the ropes. Washington’s return will allow them to find their way with little pressure to tip off the season.
On that note… Bring on Duke.