A question often asked to John Calipari before each season is who will be the leader on his team.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, Calipari did not know who that would be and left it open for the taking.
Despite a solid season thus far, the role of leader on the Kentucky Wildcats roster was still up for grabs heading Gainesville on Saturday.
Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, PJ Washington, Reid Travis and Ashton Hagans have emerged as the team’s top five players, and each has displayed leadership traits. However, no one took the title of leader and ran with it.
Now, PJ Washington is becoming the leader of the 2018-19 Wildcats.
Down double digits, in the second half, Kentucky’s win streak seemed as if it was about to come to an end.
That all changed after PJ Washington got in the face of his teammates.
PJ Washington.— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 2, 2019
Kentucky outscored Florida 34-12 from this point forward. pic.twitter.com/2fWAgsKFZb
The fans even chanted “PJ’s angry.” What did not cross their minds is that Washington was displaying a type of leadership Kentucky has not seen all season, and it helped awaken the Wildcats as they crushed Florida the rest of the way.
“He (PJ) is building his own confidence and taking control of games and coaching players on the court,” said John Calipari after the game. “I have been waiting a year and a half for this. We’re doing drills (in practice), and he’s finishing first. Anything we run, he’s finishing first, and he continues to build his own confidence.”
PJ Washington contests the shot in the corner and then beats everyone down court for the jam. pic.twitter.com/n8RFS3fQct— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 2, 2019
Following Washington’s fiery rant, Kentucky finished the game on a 34-12 run and won the game by a final score of 65-54, clinching their eighth straight victory and snapping a two-year losing streak at the Swamp. During that stretch, Washington scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds and hit Tyler Herro for what effectively was the game-clinching three-pointer:
Tyler Herro is a dawg for sure. pic.twitter.com/GSKoy54sHt— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 2, 2019
Not only was Washington a vocal leader, but he also led the way with his play. Washington finishing with 15 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and a block as he put together his fourth straight quality performance.
Of course, it wasn’t as though Washington was a ghost in the first half. He struggled to hit shots (3/8 from the field) but did finish with eight points and six boards to help keep Florida from building a bigger lead as they went up 33-29 at the break.
“He (PJ) was big,” said Tyler Herro after the game. “He’s just being a leader. When you see a guy like PJ who’s been here before, he works hard every day in practice, us young guys look up to him and take his lead, follow his lead.”
After the game, Florida head coach Mike White called Washington “the best player on the floor.”
After Saturday’s game, Washington is now No. 2 in the SEC in win shares per 40 minutes (.231) trailing only Grant Williams (.318), who is a contender for National Player of the Year honors.
Despite a tough first half and not reaching the 20-point mark for the fourth straight game, Washington was still able to fight through it and lead his team to victory.
That’s exactly what leaders do.
Kevarrius Hayes is one the best defensive big men in college hoops (No. 1 in Defensive Box Plus/Minus), but PJ Washington's strength and wingspan allow him to get shots over even the best rim protectors: pic.twitter.com/hUCTFIy8Vg— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) February 3, 2019