UK Washington

Kentucky's PJ Washington is expected to be one of the top picks in Thursday's NBA Draft in Brooklyn, New York. (Keith Taylor/Kentucky Today)

LEXINGTON — PJ Washington could be the first University of Kentucky player taken in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

The sophomore forward opted to test the waters last season but decided to return for a second season with the Wildcats. In a stellar sophomore campaign, he led the team in scoring (15.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.5 per game) and recorded nine double-doubles. Washington tallied double figures in 19 of his last 20 games. He had 28 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight.

Washington’s encore at the collegiate level improved his stock as indicated by many draft analysts and sports networks, including Jonathan Givony of ESPN.

Givony has Washington going to the Miami Heat as the 13th overall pick. If that happens, he would join former Kentucky forward Bam Adebayo in Miami.

GIVONY: “With Bam Adebayo likely being suited to seeing significant minutes at the center position, it’s difficult to point to another long-term option at the power forward spot that the team can build around, which could make a player in Washington’s mold make sense. Washington has the length to defend multiple positions on the interior, he can stretch the floor from the perimeter and he brings plenty of long-term upside. His toughness and versatility will fit well on any team.”

GARY PARRISH, CBS Sports: Like Givony, Parrish has Washington going to Miami.  

OTHER OPTIONS: Washington also could end up as the 12th pick, going to the Charlotte Hornets. He could go as high as No. 10 to the Atlanta Hawks.

IN HIS OWN WORDS: Washington describes himself as confident. “When I look in the mirror, the person looking back at me is very versatile, very aggressive. I don’t take no for an answer I will do anything to help my team win. The biggest strength to my game is my toughness. I’m tough on both ends of the floor. I motivate myself by just saying nobody can guard me. I’m a well-rounded player, I would say, and I’m just a winner.”

JOHN CALIPARI: “PJ transformed everything about his game. He became a national player of the year candidate, he showed his full set of skills and he improved his stock while helping us become one of the best teams in the country. What I’m most proud of is how PJ developed into a leader. Every kid is on their own timetable, and the one that PJ followed — which was the best path for him — has put him in a position to do some special things at the next level. I can’t wait to watch his continued growth.”

KENNY PAYNE: “PJ Washington is a winning basketball player. He is 100 percent about (his) team.”

NBA Draft: 7:30 p.m. Thursday TV: ESPN

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