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Washington returns to UK for sophomore season

Kentucky forward PJ Washington (25) blocks the shot of LSU guard Skylar Mays (4) late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. Kentucky won 74-71. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKRC)- PJ Washington will be playing basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats in 2018-19.

After going through the NBA Draft process and declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft, Washington has decided to return to the UK men’s basketball team for his sophomore season.

“I want to thank everyone for their support during this process and allowing me to take my time for one of the most important decisions of my life,” Washington said. “The plan all along was to get all the information that was out there to make the best decision for me and my family. I’ve always had a list of goals that I want to accomplish in my life, and one of the most important ones is making it to the NBA. That hasn’t changed at all.

“But another one of my goals is to win a national championship in college, and that’s what I want to do next season at Kentucky. I believe with who we have coming back and who we have coming in that we can do that. I learned a lot during my freshman season and became a better player, but I think I’ve only scratched the surface. With everything I’ve learned, I want to lead this team and compete for a championship. I can’t wait to get back on campus and get this thing started again.”

Washington’s return bolsters what was already shaping up to be a loaded 2018-19 roster. Forward Nick Richards and guard Quade Green are expected to be back for their sophomore seasons. Jemarl Baker will be fully healthy and return to the lineup next year. Additionally, UK has another highly ranked recruiting class that includes Tyler Herro, Keldon Johsnon, EJ Montgomery, Zan Payne and Immanuel Quickley. UK can only comment on prospective student-athletes who have signed official paperwork with the university.

“This is what the NBA Draft rules are in place for,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “PJ was able to test the waters and get all the information that was available to him to make the best decision for him and his family. Whatever PJ decided we were going to support, but I’m really happy with the decision he’s come to because I really want to coach PJ for another season. I know how good of a player he is and think he showed it at times last season, but I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and build on it. What I love most about this decision is why PJ is doing it. He told me he wants to come back to be a leader, to grow and to drag his teammates with him as we try to do something special.”

Washington announced in April he was entering the 2018 NBA Draft, but because he didn’t hire an agent, he had until May 30 (10 days after the NBA Draft Combine) to make a final decision as to whether he wished to remain in the draft or return to Kentucky. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel and freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt have yet to announce their final intentions.

Washington will return to Kentucky as its leading scorer and rebounder after averaging 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds during his freshman season. He was the third-leading scorer on the 2017-18 squad and led the team in total rebounds with 211 boards. He also added 31 blocks and 57 assists, both third most on the team, respectively. Twice Washington scored 20 or more, netting 20 vs. Monmouth on Dec. 9 and 22 vs. Mississippi State on Jan. 23.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism surrounding Washington’s return is the way he played at the end of the season. The 6-foot-7 forward scored in double figures in 11 of the final 12 games, including a double-double in UK’s finale vs. Kansas State. Washington recorded 18 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds vs. K-State for his team-high third double-double of the season. He pulled in at least five rebounds in all but one of those games as well.

During that 12-game stretch, Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor. UK went 9-3 during that run, including winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.

Washington shot 51.9 percent from the floor, scored in double figures in 23 games, and posted 15 or more points in 10 games. He appeared in all 37 games in 2017-18 and made 30 starts.

He’ll join a returning nucleus that features Green, Richards and Baker. Green averaged 9.3 points, 2.7 assists and made 41 3-point field goals, and Richards tallied 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds to go along with 33 blocks in his freshman campaign. Baker redshirted last season as he recovered from surgery on his knee, but he’s expected to add a significant shooting presence on the perimeter after making 94 treys in his senior season at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Menifee, California.

Regardless of what Gabriel and Vanderbilt decide, UK will welcome back 32.0 percent of its scoring and 30.5 percent of its rebounding from a season ago. That will mark Kentucky’s biggest return since the 2014-15 team that went 38-1 and advanced to the Final Four.

Information provided by UK Athletics.

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