LEXINGTON — PJ Washington did nothing but help himself during the NBA Combine this week in Chicago.
Washington scored 24 points in two 5-on-5 scrimmages and figures to make a big jump on the projected NBA Draft lists leading up to the draft, set for July in Brooklyn. Washington scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a scrimmage Thursday.
Kentucky coach John Calipari spoke to members of the media in attendance at the combine Friday and was impressed with Washington’s performances.
“I would say PJ really helped himself, so now I’ve got to go call the 30th pick, the 29th pick, the 28th,” the Kentucky coach said. “I’ve got to go down the line, so he has real information of who’s real.”
Washington indicated earlier this week that if he’s a guarantee in the first round, he will remain in the draft, but added if he’s a second-round prospect, he will likely return to Kentucky for a second season. Washington made an impression with his outside shooting Friday.
“I’ve got to really follow up now because he played well,” Calipari said. “So I’ve got to make sure that he has an opportunity in the first round if that’s what he chooses to do and that someone is not lying to him and they’re (actually) going to take him at 50. That’s what I’m here for, to make sure.
“Because if an NBA team would lie to me, you’re not coming in my gym. That’s just how it is. I’ll probably call 10 or 12 teams for them, and they’ll be honest. And if there’s real interest in four of them, I’m going to sit down with him and say, ‘Look, there’s four teams I think there’s a chance they’ll take you in the first round.’”
Along with Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt also have declared for the draft without hiring an agent. Vanderbilt was invited to the combine, but opted against attending earlier this week. Vanderbilt was hampered by foot injuries last season, limiting his options for an early jump to the next level.
“He asked me what I thought about him not coming, and I said if you cannot do any of the stuff I don’t see the reason,” Calipari said. “And he met with a team or two, so he’s done some of that. Wenyen has done some of that.”
Gabriel wasn’t invited to the combine but has reportedly worked out for two teams.
“One team told me yes, the other team told me no,” Calipari said. “But the good news about this league: You only have to have one team that likes you. The other 29 can say you stink, but if that one likes you, they take you.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox are projected to go in the first round, while it’s uncertain where Hamidou Diallo will be chosen. All three players have indicated they will hire an agent, ending their college careers.
As of now, Washington, Gabriel, and Vanderbilt could return next season. The three players have until the end of the month to make their final decision.