Not long after Kentucky’s season ended, PJ Washington declared for the NBA Draft and gave up what is left of his college eligibility.
As a player who turned down the draft a season ago and returned to college to improve his game, PJ has become a shining example and has set a new precedent for players coming back to school to improve their stock.
When Washington arrived at UK in 2017, he seemed to be a near lock as another one-and-done in John Calipari’s NBA machine. Over his 10 years in Lexington, Calipari has sent 35 players into the NBA Draft, including 26 in the first round and 19 in the lottery, and as the 12th ranked player in the 2017 class per ESPN, it seemed that Washington would have the opportunity to forego his eligibility and not return to Kentucky.
Following a freshman campaign that saw him start in 30 of his 37 appearances as a Wildcat while averaging 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds on 51.9% shooting from the field, Washington declared for the NBA Draft without signing with an agent, and it seemed as if that would be it for his short career as a Wildcat.
After testing the waters, Washington looked for a first round guarantee to ensure he stayed in the draft and waited until the very last day to announce his decision. On May 30th, Washington sent Big Blue Nation into a frenzy when he announced his decision to return to Lexington.
Kentucky’s best teams under John Calipari have been a mix of star freshman combined with any veteran leadership that decides they want to play another season as a Wildcat. With ESPN’s #2 recruiting class, fellow sophomores Quade Green and Nick Richards, and grad-transfer Reid Travis coming in to join Washington, expectations were high for the Wildcats, who opened as the #2 team in the preseason AP poll.
PJ’s statistics jumped across the board in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Washington became more of a leader and complete basketball as well, both on the floor and off.
Not only did Washington’s sophomore year lead to more wins for UK and improvements in his intangibles, but he was able to better showcase the versatility that NBA franchises are searching for in their frontcourt.
By returning for a second season, Washington has now leaped up draft boards following the improvements in nearly every facet of his game. His play has done the job of breaking the stereotype that it will hurt a potential draft prospect to return to college for another season.
When it comes to projected draft picks, returning to school comes across as a risky option that can minimize the player’s profits and likelihood of them being selected. For PJ Washington, though, it took him from a late first round or early second round draft stock all the way up to a lottery projection over the last few months.
There will always be the Zion Williamson’s of the world who would be insane not to become a professional as soon as possible, but there will be way more players who are on the fence about such a big decision in their life.
If they want to see an example, they shouldn’t look any further beyond PJ Washington’s improvements and its impact not only Kentucky’s season, but his draft stock as well.