What TyTy Washington's commitment means for Kentucky basketball 2021-22 roster

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON - Kentucky basketball's roller coaster search for a point guard has ended where it so often has in the John Calipari era, with one of the top high school point guards in the country.

Five-star point guard TyTy Washington committed to Kentucky Wednesday over Arizona, Kansas and LSU. The 247Sports Composite ranks the former Creighton commit as the No. 21 prospect and No. 3 point guard in the 2021 class. 

Calipari could still add a second point guard to Kentucky's 2021-22 roster through the transfer portal, but Washington will be the favorite to start from day one at the position.

“TyTy has got great leadership skills,” Ed Gipson, Washington’s coach at Arizona Compass Prep, recently told the Courier Journal. “…He knows how to rally guys, how to motivate his teammates. I don’t worry about that. He’s a kid that doesn’t get sped up. He doesn’t believe in his own hype. He just has never been like that.

“He’s a kid that’s just going to come to work daily. I don’t see TyTy as a kid that’s going to come to college and always looking over his shoulder. Got one thing on his mind. TyTy is going to come in and just want to get better day in and day out, that’s it.”

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Washington entered his senior year ranked as the No. 74 prospect in the class of 2021 by the 247Sports Composite, which averages the ratings of the major recruiting services. By February he had soared to No. 30 in the class.

In the most recent update, Washington earned five-star status and was ranked at No. 21 nationally.

Washington first committed to Creighton in November then reopened his recruitment in March after Creighton coach Doug McDermott drew widespread criticism for a postgame speech in which he told his players, "I need everybody to stay on the plantation."

Kentucky and a host of high-major programs quickly offered scholarships, and Washington became one of the most heavily pursued recruits left in the class.

March 26, 2021; Chandler, AZ, USA; TyTy Washington talks to a team member before practice at the AZ Compass Prep gym on March 26, 2021. Credit: Meg Potter/The Arizona Republic

The 6-foot-3 point guard did a little bit of everything for Compass Prep, posting impressive scoring numbers thanks to his driving ability and strong 3-point shot while also serving as a distributor for his teammates.

“His scoring is secondary,” Gipson said. “He’s actually a better passer than he is anything. That’s how he’s always been. A lot of times, TyTy may have a 30-point game, but the next night out he may only have 12 points and he’ll have 11 assists and seven rebounds. If the defense gives him that, yeah, he’s going to take it, but for the most part TyTy is going to do what it takes to help the team win the game.”

Washington essentially replaces four-star point guard Nolan Hickman, who decommitted from UK in April, in the Wildcats' 2021 recruiting class. Washington outplayed Hickman in a head-to-head matchup at the GEICO Nationals in April with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals in Compass Prep’s win. On Saturday, he scored a game-high 22 points in the Iverson Classic all-star game, which included Hickman and most of the top players in the 2021 class.

ESPN projected Washington as the No. 15 pick in its most recent 2022 NBA mock draft published Tuesday.

At Kentucky, Washington should serve as a facilitator in a backcourt that includes stellar 3-point shooters Kellan Grady, C.J. Fredrick and Dontaie Allen. The Wildcats are still waiting on a decision from senior guard Davion Mintz as to whether he will use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility.

“Players who thrive in our culture are players who are physically tough, who have a mental toughness to them, who want the challenge and are not looking for guarantees, and who want to see how good they can be in a really competitive environment,” Calipari said in a UK news release confirming Washington had signed his Letter of Intent. “All of that describes TyTy Washington. He wanted this. He wanted the challenge. He is a combination guard who can play both point and off guard. He is a downhill runner who physically gets to the rim. His physical attributes and his mental approach leads me to believe he will be a terrific defender too. I am ecstatic for him to join Bryce Hopkins and Daimion Collins, two other young and talented players, in our freshman class.”

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Will Kentucky basketball add another point guard to 2021-22 roster?

With Mintz's status in limbo, Kentucky's roster still lacks a second point guard.

For that reason, Calipari is expected to add a veteran transfer at the position with former Georgia point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who led the SEC in assists per game (7.4) last season, believed to be the leading candidate. Wheeler is expected to announce a decision between Kentucky, Kansas, LSU and Oklahoma State in the coming days.

Wheeler and Washington would provide two different types of point guards for Kentucky.

While Washington is considered a strong 3-point shooter, Wheeler shot just 26.2% from 3-point range in two seasons at Georgia. He shot just 22.5% (18 for 80) from beyond the arc last season.

The 5-foot-10 Wheeler is considered an excellent passer. He did averaged 4.4 turnovers per game last season but still led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7) thanks to averaging 2.5 more assists per game than any other player in the league. Wheeler also averaged 14 points and 1.7 steals per game.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ