Washington says return to Cats was right move

Published 2:50 pm Friday, June 15, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) — PJ Washington has no regrets about coming back to Kentucky.

“It feels great (to be back) and I wanted to be here,” Washington said Thursday. “I wanted to be here and if I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here. Being back with (the returnees) is great and I feel like we have a great group of guys coming in. I feel we can have a great season. I can’t wait to get the season started.”

Washington, who declared for the NBA Draft, but opted to return for a second season, will be among four returnees for the Wildcats next season and is looking forward to building on his freshman campaign. Washington wasn’t guaranteed to be a first-round selection in next week’s draft, which made the decision to return a little easier following the combine.

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“(I made the comment at the NBA Combine) and stuck by it,” he said. “I felt like it was best for me to come back. It was definitely a tough decision. My dream is to play in the NBA and being able to test those waters was great for me and a great experience. I’m just excited to come back and start a new season here at Kentucky.”

During the process, Washington said scouts urged him to just “keep listening to coach (John) Calipari and (Kenny Payne).”

“(They told me to) just basically do as they say and just win a lot of games,” he said. “That’s the best advice they gave me. It was a big decision for me. There was a lot of good (things) and a lot of bad. I feel like I made the right decision to come back, get a little bit better and work on my game more. That’s what I’m going to do.”

While improving his draft stock is a priority, Washington said winning is his main concern.

“That’s what a lot of Kentucky fans want,” he said. “If you don’t win here, a lot of fans don’t really like you. I just have to go out there and lead (the team).”

Calipari wants Washington to build on his performance in the Kansas State contest during last year’s Sweet Sixteen at Phillips Arena in Atlanta. Washington scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the season-ending setback.

“He wants me to do everything I did the in the Kansas State game and just work on my outside game a lot more,” he said. “That’s basically what he said, and I’ve been doing that in my pre-draft workouts. That’s what I’ve been focusing on and I feel like I’m ready for it. I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Washington also plans to work on his free-throw shooting. He missed 12 charity tosses in the loss to the Wildcats. He is confident a turnaround will occur next season.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” he said. “I practice every day. I get into the gym and work on the things I need to work on. I’ve just got to trust my work.”

Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season, During a 12-game period down the stretch, Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and helped lead the Wildcats to the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship, but played most of the second half of the season with a broken pinky finger. Washington injured his finger while diving for a loose ball in practice and played through the pain in hopes it would eventually subside, but eventually required surgery.

“I couldn’t really rebound with (the injury) and it hurt just to touch it,” he said. “Every time somebody hit it, it started hurting and I just shook it off and kept playing. It was kind of hard of first, but I got used to it.”

Washington expects to be at full speed when classes resume this fall and want to be a leader, especially by example. He added that having Quade Green, Jemerl Baker and Nick Richards back also will be beneficial.

“We’ve all been through it and we all know what coach (Calipari) wants,” Washington said. “We just have to go out there and help teach the younger guys and be like a stepping stone for them and lead by example and win a lot of games this year. We have a great chance to be good (next year). We have a lot of good players coming in.”