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Findlay Prep product P.J. Washington could be NBA lottery pick

P.J. Washington’s decision to play another season at Kentucky has paid off, with draft projections higher than they would have been a year ago.

But that doesn’t mean Washington, who went to Findlay Prep, will create a trend of players staying longer in college to improve their NBA draft status. His decision to remove his name from last year’s draft was personal.

Washington is projected to be taken as a lottery pick or just outside those top 14 selections in the draft, which begins at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Barclays Center in New York.

”I think he certainly helped himself,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “It doesn’t mean that’s the only way. He certainly is going to be drafted higher this year than he would have been last year. Coming back and working on his game, being a more finished product was immensely helpful to improving his draft position.

“Now, had he gone pro last year out of college, after just one year at Kentucky, could things have worked out just as well, if not better? Of course. There’s no rulebook or road map for this. I can tell you my personal perspective on it. If any player is ready to be a pro, irrespective of where they are drafted, I say go.”

Washington, a 6-foot-8-inch, 228-pound forward, will attend the draft. He isn’t the only former Findlay Prep player who could hear his name called. Oregon center Bol Bol (7-2, 235) is projected to go in the first round, and Syracuse forward Oshae Brissett (6-8, 210) could be taken in the second.

If Washington had remained in last year’s draft, he probably would have gone late in the first round or early second. The decision was made that he would turn pro if he was guaranteed a first-round selection.

Without that assurance, Washington returned to Kentucky.

“I think everybody’s situation financially and their family situation is different,” said Paul Washington, P.J.’s father and former Findlay Prep coach. “P.J.’s in a situation financially where he didn’t have to (go pro). He could make the decision that was best for him and his skill set and his ability.”

Washington led the Wildcats with 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season. He made 52.2 percent of his field goals, including 42.3 percent from 3-point range.

He improved on his freshman averages of 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds as well as his shooting percentages of 51.9 overall and 23.8 from 3.

“His offensive game got better,” said a longtime NBA scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “As a freshman, he was always a guy who played with a high motor and rebounded the ball, and this year he expanded his game in terms of getting a little more versatile on offense. He did expand his range, and that’s what teams are looking for. A lot of people, I think, still look at him as an undersized power forward.

“Last year, people didn’t know that he could shoot like this because he didn’t do it. Last year, he would not have been picked this high. Probably 25 to 35, somewhere like that.”

Bilas agreed that Washington made noticeable strides.

“He became far more consistent,” Bilas said. “You could tell that he was more assertive, confident, impacted the game in far more ways than he did as a freshman. P.J. is a good passer, has a good understanding of the game. He showed that he could step out and knock a perimeter shot down. He could go into the post and be a go-to scorer with his back to the basket.

“I think he improved his body, did a much better job of running the floor. He was much better as a defender, rebounding, protecting the rim, things of that nature. He improved in every conceivable way and became more of a leader.”

Washington told reporters at last month’s combine in Chicago that he thought his game will transition to the NBA because of more spacing on the larger pro courts.

“I’m really confident in my abilities,” said Washington, who declined an interview request with the Review-Journal. “I feel like I showed that the whole year. I feel like I did that on the defensive end as well. I feel like I can come in and play right away.”

He said waiting a year worked out for him.

“I feel like pretty much everybody coming up wants to get into the league as quick as possible, but it’s really all about developing your skill set and going when you’re ready,” Washington said. “I felt like coming in last year I really wasn’t where I wanted to be, and this year I’m definitely where I want to be. I’m confident in myself and confident in my ability, so I feel like I can go anywhere and play right away.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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