LEXINGTON, Ky. – In fewer than five hours Thursday, Kentucky basketball went from zero commitments in the Class of 2017 to a pair of 5-star big men who likely will vault the Wildcats’ haul into the top five in the national rankings. It’s a later surge than normal, but the same result as ever under coach John Calipari.
Power forward P.J. Washington followed center Nick Richards’ lead by committing to UK during a live signing day special on ESPNU Thursday evening. The 6-foot-8 Washington is ranked as high as 14th overall in the class (by Scout.com) and no lower than 17th (by Rivals.com).
“I think P.J. is one of the best rebounders in the 2017 class,” said Evan Daniels, Scout’s director or recruiting. “He has good length – a 7-2 wingspan – he’s active, mobile, athletic. He’s got a versatile scoring attack: can step out and make off-the-catch jump shots and also post up; he’ll drive from the elbow.”
Washington, who picked Kentucky over North Carolina and UNLV (he plays high school ball at Findlay Prep in Nevada), averaged 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds this summer on the Nike EYBL circuit against many of the best prospects in the country. He said during the ESPNU broadcast that a visit to Big Blue Madness in October made him feel like UK basketball was a big family.
That and “just the way Coach Calipari uses his players and gets them to the next level” sold Washington, he said. “He told me he would use me like Trey Lyles and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, play me with no positions and just dominate the game.”
While Calipari can’t comment on specific prospects until they’ve officially signed, but he said Thursday that “all is good” on the recruiting trail these days.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ✅ ?⚪️
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 10, 2016
“What we’ve been able to do, what these players have been able to do, how we’ve handled things off the court as well as on the court where they become their best version,” Calipari said, “talking about John Wall being the Community Assist Award winner in the NBA with Anthony Davis runner-up, I mean, those results help – 28 draft picks in 7 years. The staff has done a great job of getting us involved with the right guys, the right guys for this place.
“This isn’t for everybody, but at the end of the day, I think we’ll get the kids we’re supposed to get. Doesn’t mean we’ll get them all, but …”
The Wildcats have gotten at least three 5-star recruits in every class since Calipari came to Kentucky and signed Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe in 2009. That trend will continue this year.
Washington’s father, Paul, told SEC Country this summer that he’d established a close relationship with Wildcats assistant coach Kenny Payne and become impressed by the way the program handles elite players.
“(Payne) is more about people than basketball,” the elder Washington said. “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.”
While another Wildcats target, 4-star guard John Petty from Huntsville, Ala., is expected to choose Alabama during an announcement later Thursday night, Kentucky is far from done in this class. Top-50 combo guard Shai Alexander is announcing his decision on Monday (the Cats are favored) and 5-star point guard Quade Green will choose between UK and Syracuse on Nov. 19.
Several other Calipari targets – top-10 players Mohamed Bamba, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo, and 5-star point guard Trae Young – are planning to wait until the late signing period in April to finalize their decisions. If history is any indication, the Cats will finish strong.