By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes Paul Washington Sr. admits he gets a bit frustrated when his son, P.J. Washington, seems to be judged just by how many points he scores in a game.
“You can look at scoring, but he’s just a winner. If his team needs him to score 20, he’ll do it. If it needs five points and eight rebounds, he’ll do that. He’s not a guy who is unhappy if someone else scores 20 points, he gets five and the team wins,” Paul Washington said. “If you watch, you will see him celebrating a great pass as much as a 3 or dunk. Sometimes I think the media just believes 20 points is a good game but there’s a lot more to his game than that.”
The UK sophomore’s father says his son’s defense and ability to stretch the floor with his improved 3-point shooting is often overlooked by some along with his rebounding.
“He can score but look at the way he guarded Luke Maye in that North Carolina game. That was bigger than scoring,” Paul Washington, a former prep school coach, said. “As a coach’s son, he knows the game and understands what is coming. If you look, you can see the growth he’s had in his game since last year.”
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale was critical of PJ Washington for not consistently putting up big scoring and rebounding numbers like he did early in the season when he averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in consecutive games against North Dakota, VMI and Winthrop. He had a career-high 18 rebounds against VMI.
However, the Kentucky sophomore has silenced every critic recently. He had three straight games with 20 or more points before getting “only” 15 in Saturday’s win at Florida. However, against the Gators he had his third straight double-double, something no UK player had done since Julius Randle in 2014.
Calipari admits he can get “angry” with Washington when he plays without a full motor.
“We just have to tell him it is not acceptable (to play that way),” Calipari said. ”When I don’t see that motor, it drives me nuts. You should be the best player in the country. So what would lead you not to go after these dudes every minute and then say, ‘Coach, can you give me three or four minutes, let get my breath and I’ll be ready to go and then go kill them again’ and everybody across the country is talking about PJ Washington.
“You can’t be afraid of being the best. Be the best. But you know what? It’s hard. And how about this? Living up to it every game? Even harder.”
Calipari said he has been waiting since last year for the sophomore to do what he is doing now.
“He is building his own confidence,” Calipari said after Saturday’s win. “He is taking control of games. I have been waiting a year and a half for this. Now we are doing drills and anything we do he is finishing first. He got tough rebounds down the stretch.”
Washington is averaging 20.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 assists and 1 steal per game over last four games, all double-digit scoring efforts. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from behind the arc.
He put his name into the draft after his freshman season but opted to come back to UK after being evaluated by NBA personnel.
“If he had been guaranteed he would be a first-round pick, he would have left. He wasn’t, so he came back. That’s what we said from day one,” Paul Washington said. “It was never that he didn’t like Kentucky or college. But when you don’t say anything to people, they just come up with news like some did about him not wanting to be back at UK.
“He enjoyed the team last year. It has a totally different dynamic this year. It’s truly a family. There have been some peaks and valleys but this is truly a team and Cal and his staff have done a great job getting this team to where it is now.”