LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari’s best Kentucky teams have all had at least a few returning players to show the always-talented freshman class the ropes. To that end, rising sophomores PJ Washington and Quade Green had some advice Thursday for the new guys: It’s all between the ears.
“Just be mentally tough,” said Washington, who pulled out of the 2018 NBA Draft at the May 30 deadline. “If you’re mentally tough, you can get through it. That’s the biggest thing with Cal. If you’re mentally tough, you’ll play a lot of defense and you’ll do your thing.”
Washington, Green and 7-footer Nick Richards were all McDonald’s All-Americans who experienced a mix of success and disappointment as freshmen last season at Kentucky. All three are back, along with former top-100 recruit Jemarl Baker, who sat out with a knee injury.
Green lost his starting job to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who will likely be a lottery pick in the draft next week. Green was rumored to be considering a transfer this spring. One report had him heading home to Philadelphia to play at La Salle.
“I actually laughed at that one. That was hilarious,” said Green, who claims to have never even considered leaving Lexington. “No, not at all.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t have some low moments last season, when he averaged 9.3 points, 2.7 assists and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. Not a bad freshman season, but not what he expected.
“I wasn’t ready for the mental work, really,” Green admits now. “I was just frustrated sometimes, down all the time.”
He was all smiles on Thursday, though, as Kentucky’s returning players met with the media for the first time since the Wildcats lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Green has gotten in better shape and embraced the competition that’s coming this fall.
Calipari signed McDonald’s All-Americans Immanuel Quickley (point guard) and Keldon Johnson (shooting guard) and top-40 sharpshooter Tyler Herro. The No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019, Ashton Hagans, is in the process of reclassifying and joining UK this season.
“That didn’t bother me at all. I’m still here,” said Green, whose wisdom for the freshmen is simple: “Just come in with a clean slate mentally. Everything you did in high school doesn’t matter. You gotta elevate on a whole new level — Cal’s level. I didn’t have any idea until I came here.
“My mental wasn’t there all the way, I would say. But now I think it’s all together and I’m ready to go. ”
Washington, a power forward who had 18 points and 15 rebounds in his last game, will lead a similarly loaded front court. EJ Montgomery, a 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American, is already on campus and Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, a former McDonald’s All-American and All-Pac-12 forward, could be here soon.
“I like our roster now, but I feel like if we include a couple more guys it’ll be great,” Washington said. “We have four guys coming back who have all been through it — we all know what Coach Cal wants — so we can go out there and help teach the younger guys, lead by example, and win a lot of games this year.”
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