LOS ANGELES – With the way sophomore PJ Washington has led the Kentucky men’s basketball team through the arduous Southeastern Conference slate, it should be no surprise that he’s being mentioned as one of the best players in the country. On Saturday, Washington added another honor to his growing list of recognition with a selection to the John R. Wooden Award’s 2018-19 National Ballot.
Washington is one of 15 players selected by the Wooden Award National Advisory Board, who are candidates for the Wooden Award All American Team and the Wooden Award Trophy, which is given to the season’s most outstanding college basketball player.
Voting for the award will begin on March 18 and conclude on March 25. Voters consist of nearly 1,000 members of the media as well as the fans. Fans may vote at woodenawardvote.com.
All balloted players have been certified by their university to meet or exceed the qualifications for the Wooden Award set forth by Coach Wooden when the award was established. The qualifications include: candidates must exhibit strength of character, both on and off the court; candidates must be a full-time student in an accredited NCAA college or university; candidates must be making progress toward graduation and have a cumulative grade-point average of 2.0 or better; candidates must contribute to team effort; candidates must excel in both offense and defense; and candidates should be considered on their performance over the course of the entire season.
On Wednesday, Washington was tabbed as one of 10 semifinalists for the Citizen Naismith Trophy, awarded annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the national player of the year, and he was selected as one of five finalists for the Karl Malone Award, which honors the nation’s best power forward on Thursday.
This year’s finalists for the Wooden Award are Washington, RJ Barret (Duke), Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga), Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech), Mike Daum (South Dakota State), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Markus Howard (Marquette), De’Andre Hunter (Virginia), Dedric Lawson (Kansas), Ja Morant (Murray State), Grant Williams (Tennessee), Zion Williamson (Duke) and Cassius Winston (Michigan State).
Washington is looking to become the second winner in program history. Anthony Davis was tabbed the Wooden Award winner in 2012 after leading Kentucky to its eighth national championship. Other winners include Larry Bird (1979), Michael Jordan (1984), Tim Duncan (1997) and Kevin Durant (2007).
The Dallas native has been on a tear since the calendar flipped to 2019. 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 13 games. During that stretch, he’s shooting 53.7 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.
The Wooden Award All American Team, consisting of the nation’s top-10 players, and the five finalists for the Wooden Award will be announced following the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. The announcement will take place April 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET and air live on ESPNU.
Kentucky will complete its regular season today vs. Florida at 2 p.m. in Rupp Arena. CBS will televise the game.