ATLANTA – PJ Washington, one of the most dominant players in college basketball during the 2018-19 season, is a semifinalist for the 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy, awarded annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the national player of the year.
Washington was one of 10 players on the semifinalist list released Wednesday. He joins Grant Williams from Tennessee as the Southeastern Conference representatives.
The UK sophomore forward is looking to become just the second Wildcat in Kentucky’s storied history to win the award. Anthony Davis, who led UK to the 2012 national championship, captured the school’s first and only Naismith Trophy.
Four finalists will be announced March 19, at which point fans will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite player leading up to the final announcement. The 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy will be awarded at the Naismith Awards Brunch on April 7, during the Final Four in Minneapolis. Only players among the semifinalists are eligible to advance to the next round.
Washington, who is one of 10 midseason finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Karl Malone Award, which honors the nation’s top power forward, is playing the best basketball in his career.
He’s scored 20 or more points in eight of the last 13 games and has been at the center of Kentucky’s national surge. The Wildcats have won 15 of their last 17 and are firmly in the discussion for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Washington is averaging 18.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 blocks over the last 14 games. During that stretch, he’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor and 47.5 from 3-point range. That span also includes three straight double-doubles vs. then-No. 9/10 Kansas, at Vanderbilt and at Florida.
Overall, Washington leads the Wildcats in both scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.4 rpg). After mulling a decision to turn pro after last season, Washington is enjoying career highs in virtually every statistical category in his return sophomore season, including a team-high seven double-doubles.
For the season, Washington is shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from 3-point range. A year after hitting just five 3s in 37 games at a 23.8-percent rate, he's already drained 30 in 30 games this season.
He’s one of just five players nationally standing 6-foot-8 or taller averaging at least 14.5 points, shooting at least 50 percent from the field, at least 40 percent from 3-point range and with at least 30 made 3-pointers.
Perhaps the truest indicator of Washington’s worth this season is his impressive play vs. Kentucky’s best competition. In UK’s eight games vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams, Washington is averaging 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent.
Notable games include a recent 23-point game vs. Auburn that featured a career-high five 3-pointers, 23 points in the home win over then-top-ranked Tennessee, and a 29-point, 12-rebound game vs. Seton Hall.
Washington was named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week on Feb. 19 and is a two-time SEC Player of the Week pick this season.
Founded during the 1956-57 season, the Atlanta Tipoff Club is committed to promoting the game of basketball and recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of those who make the game so exciting. The Atlanta Tipoff Club administers the Naismith Awards. Named in honor of Dr. James Naismith, inventor of the game of basketball, the family of Naismith Awards annually recognizes the top men’s and women’s college and high school basketball players and coaches. Other Naismith Awards are presented to the men’s and women’s college basketball defensive players of the year, as well as lifetime achievement awards to basketball officials and outstanding contributors to the game.
Kentucky will complete its regular season Saturday vs. Florida at 2 p.m. in Rupp Arena. CBS will televise the game.