LEXINGTON, Ky. — PJ Washington has made his 2018 NBA Draft decision, and it means the Kentucky Wildcats will be loaded next season: He announced via Twitter, with a Michael Jordan-style, “I’m back,” that he’s returning for his sophomore season in Lexington.
— PJ Washington (@PJWashington) May 30, 2018
Washington, a 6-foot-7 forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds as a freshman. The former McDonald’s All-American ended his first year in college with 18 points and 15 rebounds against Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
He participated in the NBA Combine, where he produced 24 points and 15 rebounds in 39 minutes of 5-on-5 scrimmaging against other draft hopefuls, and worked out for several teams. Projected to be picked anywhere from mid-30s to mid-50s if he stayed in the draft, Washington took the arguably the most important offseason decision for Kentucky basketball all the way down to Wednesday’s deadline.
“The plan all along was to get all the information that was out there to make the best decision for me and my family,” Washington said in a UK-issued news release. “I’ve always had a list of goals that I want to accomplish in my life, and one of the most important ones is making it to the NBA. That hasn’t changed at all.
“But another one of my goals is to win a national championship in college, and that’s what I want to do next season at Kentucky. I believe with who we have coming back and who we have coming in that we can do that.”
The Wildcats had already lost freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo to early draft entry and sophomores Sacha Killeya-Jones (N.C. State) and Tai Wynyard (Santa Clara) to transfers. Sophomore Wenyen Gabriel announced he’ll stay in the draft — despite not being a projected pick — shortly after Washington announced his return.
So Kentucky will return point guard Quade Green (9.3 ppg, 2.7 apg), shooting guard Jemarl Baker (redshirted last season) and center Nick Richards (5.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) — and is still waiting on an NBA decision from forward Jarred Vanderbilt (5.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg).
“Whatever PJ decided, we were going to support, but I’m really happy with the decision he’s come to because I really want to coach PJ for another season,” coach John Calipari said in UK’s release. “I know how good of a player he is and think he showed it at times last season, but I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and build on it. What I love most about this decision is why PJ is doing it.
“He told me he wants to come back to be a leader, to grow and to drag his teammates with him as we try to do something special.”
Kentucky is also adding a star-studded freshman class: 5-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, 5-star wing Keldon Johnson, 5-star power forward E.J. Montgomery and 4-star shooting guard Tyler Herro — plus almost certainly the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019, Ashton Hagans, who is expected to reclassify and enroll this summer.
And the potential cherry on top: Now there are multiple reports that the Cats are the likely landing spot for Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, a former McDonald’s All-American and two-time All-Pac-12 forward who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last season for the Cardinal.