CAIRO, Egypt—The United States’ men’s U19 team celebrated the 4th of July with an old-fashioned cookout at the American embassy here.
But it was muscular power forward P.J. Washington who supplied the fireworks on America’s birthday.
Kentucky freshman guard Hammy Diallo may be the most electric player on this team. But the 6-8, 232-pound Washington, his future teammate, has rivaled Auburn’s 6-11 sophomore center Austin Wiley as the most consistent. Washington scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed 4 rebounds as the Americans raced to a 98-65 victory over Italy yesterday at the Cairo Indoor Stadium Arena to finished unbeaten in Group D pool competition with a perfect 3-0 record.
“I thought Italy played great, they hit a lot of shots at the beginning and that forces us to bounce back and play some defense more so than the first two games,” said Washington, who leads the USA scoring, averaging 14.7 points e while adding 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game. “I was just trying to get to the rack, just trying to be aggressive, just playing my game and I felt like it was working for me tonight.”
The win improved the Americans to 3-0 and earned them the Group D number one seed for the Round of 16. The USA will next face Mali (0-3), the fourth-place finisher in Group C, Wednesday.
“PJ’s (Washington) a beast and I don’t know how you guard him,” USA and University of Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “If he gets an angle by you, he’s tough to stop. And he made his free throws today. He’s playing the way we need him to play.”
Washington, who was born in Louisville and grew up in Frisco, Tex., where his dad—who played for Middle Tennessee—was a middle school coach. He started his high school career at Prime Prep in Dallas, then transferred to Findlay as a junior, where he blossomed into a sought-after prospect. Washington was one of seven blue chip recruits who signed with John Calipari, selecting the Cats over North Carolina and UNLV.
There is a good chance Washington will be a starter from Day 1 as a stretch 4 because or big wing of his ability to play multiple positions. He can take the ball too the goal, score in the post as a finisher or off second chance points and is developing an efective perimeter game. He is an elite rebounder and his length and timing and basketball IQ allow him to defend multiple positions. Calipari has already compared him to USA assistant coach Danny Manning, the versatile 6-8 forward who led Kansas to the 1988 national championship.
Washington took over what had been a surprisingly close game for most of the first half, scoring 9 of his points as the USA ground out a 26-21 lead. By halftime, it expanded its lead to 53-39.
Like Calipari’s Kentucky teams, this team has the ability to wear you out.
All 12 players scored for the USA. High school senior point guard Cam Reddish from the Westtown, Pa. School finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds and UNLV freshman center Brandon McCoy had 13. Wiley contributed 9 points and 14 boards for the Americans, who overwhelmed Italy, 67-40, on the glass. High school senior guard Immanuel Quickley from John Carroll, Md. High had his second strong game with 11 points and 6 assists. The Americans got 41 points from their deep bench.
“I like it,” Calipari said after his team’s first real test of the tournament. “I wanted to see when you have a 10-0 lead, okay it’s time to get it to 18-2, 22-4. Next group goes in and gets it to 40. We weren’t ready for that. So, all of a sudden, we let another team come back and they’re in the game with a chance to beat you. Now it’s a long way away, but I was happy it happened.”
This was the third straight blowout for the USA, which scored over 100 points in victories against Iran and Angola.