Healed and Healthy, PJ Washington Excited to Finally Play on NBA Court

by Sam Perley

A significant sprain in his left foot couldn’t slow down former Kentucky Wildcat PJ Washington over the final two games of his collegiate career as he averaged 22.0 PPG and 7.5 RPG off the bench against Houston and Auburn in the NCAA Tournament six months ago.

But the lingering ailment was enough to derail his first NBA Summer League in July before it got started after the Hornets decided to play it safe with their prized rookie forward. It’s become a growing trend in recent years for teams to be overly protective with their draft picks in Las Vegas, but that didn’t make sitting out any easier for Washington.

“It definitely sucked seeing everybody playing and just having to watch on the bench,” he said in an interview with Hornets.com. “I just tried to enjoy it as much as I could and just focus on my rehab at that point. I’m just glad everything is moving in the right direction. I’m definitely feeling a lot better than I did around Summer League time. I’ve been in here grinding. My foot is back where it needs to be. I’m definitely excited.”

While the exposure to any NBA setting can be beneficial in more ways than one, there was only so much the reigning Third-Team All-American could take away from the team’s stay out in the desert without actually playing.

“I was trying to learn the sets from the sideline and do as much as I could from just watching. I feel like I did a good job of that,” he said. “I just feel like it was a great experience.”

The Hornets will finally get to see Washington in live game action in less than three weeks with training camp and preseason play looming just around the corner. And a new-look rotation combined with the helpful guidance of some Charlotte veterans could possibly have the 21-year-old looking at some early-season playing time.

“Honestly, I’ve been learning a lot of stuff from everybody. Everybody’s in here pretty much every day. Talking to guys like Marv, Cody, Biz, all those guys. Dwayne, Malik, Miles, Devonte’ – pretty much everyone and Terry as well. Everybody’s on the right page and everyone’s bonded together. I feel like we’re going to be better than what people think.”

And there certainly are prognosticators who think it could be a long year in Buzz City after the team lost its two leading scorers from last season in free agency. But Washington – who comes from a college program where winning is expected – is tuning out the doubters and simply focusing on himself.

“Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to stuff like that,” Washington stated when asked about his mindset. “I just try and come in and do my job every day, try and be the best version of myself and I expect the same from my teammates. I feel like if we do that, we’ll win games. It just comes down to being on the same page with each other and fighting for each other.”

Washington is initially projected to begin the season behind Marvin Williams and Miles Bridges at the power forward position. Standing 6’8”, he owns a lengthy 7’2 ¼” wingspan, a much-improved three-point shot (42.3% last season) and advanced finishing-at-the-basket abilities, all traits that could help him earn consistent NBA minutes sooner rather than later.

Although he would have likely been a first-round pick last summer, Washington ended up returning to school to fine-tune his craft and got taken 12th overall in June. Intangibles like self-recognition and maturity are not always common amongst younger players and will be elements that serve Washington and the Charlotte Hornets well moving forward.

“For me, it just comes down to winning,” stated Washington. “I’m definitely a team player. If I’m not winning, I’m not happy. I’m just trying to come in each and every day to try and get a W. I’m super excited. I’m a basketball player. I love playing basketball. It’s definitely my dream to be here and I’m excited. I’m willing to work hard each and every day.”

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