NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – Kentucky has a quite a foot in the door with 5-star power forward P.J. Washington: his father is a huge fan of the Wildcats’ ace recruiter, assistant coach Kenny Payne.
“He’s more about people than basketball,” Paul Washington said, “so he talks to my kid and talks to my family about stuff other than just basketball.
“It’s hard not to like Kentucky, just from the standpoint of what they’ve done and how many kids they’ve gotten to the NBA. But when you really break it down and you see the nuts and bolts of it and how much they care about the kids – the development piece and how they actually get them to that next level – that’s what we’re really impressed with at Kentucky.”
The Cats are equally enamored of Washington, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound power forward ranked by Scout.com as the No. 14 overall recruit — No. 1 at his position in the Class of 2017. He is averaging 17.4 points and 10.9 rebounds against some of the nation’s top prospects on the Nike EYBL circuit this summer.
“How hard I play and the intensity I bring to the game, they like that,” Washington said of UK. “It matches up, because I like to block shots and get out in transition, and they do that a lot.”
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Wildcats head coach John Calipari, who sat courtside with Payne on Thursday morning when Washington dropped 22 points and 12 rebounds in a game at Peach Jam, is fond of saying his program is “positionless” these days. He looks for versatile players who can be moved around all over the floor.
That idea, like Payne’s personality, struck a chord with Washington’s father.
“He’s positionless,” Paul said of his son, “so they’ll use him inside and out. They’ll play to his athleticism, his ability to play the three and post up at the four. That’s how he fits in with what they do.”
But don’t take Dad’s word for it. Former NBA star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway coaches P.J. Washington on the AAU circuit, for Team Penny, and raves about his so-called undersized power forward. Long arms and a nasty attitude (the good kind) make up for a lack of ideal height.
“P.J. is a problem, man,” Hardaway said. “They always talk about tweeners – is he a three or four? – but he’s just a ball player. You can’t put a tag on a ball player. He’s able to play against a 7-footer, a 6-10, a 6-5, and do whatever he needs to do. If he goes out on the perimeter, he can get around a guard or a small forward. If he gets it in the post, he can post any big man.”
Washington hopes to schedule his official visits – with Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Texas and one more school to be determined – by August, then maybe make his college choice in December or January.
The Cats will have competition, as Washington said he “loves” Longhorns coach Shaka Smart and is “really cool” with Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who desperately needs to prove he can still reel in blue-chippers and is in hot pursuit.
“He told me he’s going to be at all my games,” Washington said. “He said, ‘You won’t see a coach more’ than I see him. He’s been at all of them. It just shows loyalty, really.”
Payne is making sure he and his family feel that same love from Kentucky. Too many phone calls to count have forged a close bond between the Cats’ assistant and star’s father.
Paul Washington wants to keep that vibe going with a 1-on-1 experience during his son’s official visit to Lexington. So they won’t schedule it during the circus of Big Blue Madness, when several top prospects come to town for a preseason practice that always doubles as an extravagant laser-light show and epic Calipari recruiting pitch.
“But he wants to be there for that,” Paul Washington said, “so I think I’m going to pay for that one myself and he’s going to go.”
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_AJC. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.