On the first day of USA U19 tryouts, P.J. Washington didn’t look all that special. But according to SEC Country, a talk from John Calipari made all the difference.
The message: stop playing like a traditional power forward, step out from the basket and, most of all, attack. The next day, on consecutive possessions of a scrimmage against some of the top young players in America, Washington obliged, catching the ball at the top of the key, driving and finishing — the second time with a tomahawk dunk.
Washington was suddenly a whole different animal in day two. He made the cut down to 18 by displaying his ability to score from anywhere on the floor. His strong played continued throughout the week, enough to earn him a spot on the final 12-man roster.
Washington made it over high-caliber players like Jordan Brown, Bol Bol and Mitchell Robinson. Washington is one of several players on next year’s Kentucky team who can play multiple positions. There’s a ton of versatility, and he’s showing his off right now.
“People are sleeping on me,” Washington said. “Honestly, I don’t think too many people thought I had that in my game, but I just wanted to come out and show them that I can do multiple things. I feel like this year with Coach Cal is going to be good because he’s going to push me to do things and get out on the wing.”
Calipari has loved to talk about versatility and positionless basketball recently. And he’s getting plenty of it at Kentucky (and on the U19 team) this year.
“You think about how we play and the game, where it’s going: positionless,” said Calipari. “Play basketball, take somebody on the bounce, get in the lane. Don’t short-dribble and spin; it doesn’t work. Might work in high school, but it doesn’t work in college. You gotta get by people, shoot jump shots, go play.”
Washington’s success so far with Team USA has led him to receive praise from Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News as well.
“P.J. impressed me the most in terms of his readiness to play right now with what (the Wildcats) need him to do at the position they need him to fill,” DeCourcy said. “He was the most ready to make an impact. He knows exactly what he is and exactly how to help his team. He plays hard, he drives the ball, he’s aggressive. I really like him.”
Washington will play alongside fellow Wildcat Hamidou Diallo in Egypt when the U19 team competes for gold. That’s when the whole world will get to see what Calipari is so excited about.