Starting the 2017 season he’s one of just three scholarship players for Kentucky who have played in a college game.
Killeya-Jones was ranked the No. 24 overall prospect in the Class of 2016 by the 247Sports composite. He was one of four McDonald’s All-Americans the Wildcats signed in his class. The other three — De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo — were all one-and-done
NBA lottery picks. The 6-foot-10 Killeya-Jones, who is from Chapel Hill, N.C., originally committed to the University of Virginia. He scored a total of 40 points in just 96 minutes of action as a freshman at UK. He did not play at all in the final 19 games.
So why would anyone expect much more from a guy who completely disappeared at the end of last season? Because he was the youngest player on the roster and got buried behind Adebayo — two factors that combined to see him shrink from the bright spotlight at Kentucky. But it is said that something clicked for Killeya-Jones in practice over the final month of the season and he began to turn a corner mentally — something former teammates later confirmed.
In 2017 he sees an opportunity to actually contribute. On a team full of freshmen that is heavy on 6-foot-9 forwards who play like guards, Killeya-Jones gives the Cats something different. He’s long enough to be a factor in the paint, both defensively and on the glass, but skilled enough to step out and make shots. He could share time with 7-foot freshman Nick Richards at the 5 spot or play alongside him at the 4.
Remember, in limited action last season, Killeya-Jones was productive: 16.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes. After an offseason of weight room and skill work — and a couple of weeks in Great Britain’s national team training camp — the expectation is that he’s ready to help on a much more consistent basis.
What they’re saying about Sacha Killeya-Jones?
“He’s focused, he’s driven, he understands what he has to do now and he has a plan. I’m really excited for him. He was the youngest guy on that team last year; he’s younger than several of the freshmen coming in this year. Some of the other guys were more prepared, and I don’t know how prepared from a maturity standpoint he was. When he started to get acclimated, he started to get better. That’s been how he’s been since high school. Once he gets comfortable, he gets better and better and better.” — says Gilbert Abraham, a personal trainer who has worked with Killeya-Jones since the ninth grade.
It’s hard to say whether he’ll start because of two factors: Calipari seems intrigued by the possibility of playing some unconventional lineups, and even in a more traditional look Richards defensive prowess despite offensive deficiencies. But Killeya-Jones should, at a minimum, be in the regular rotation.
Despite his disappointing freshman season, writing off SKJ is a mistake. Kentucky fans are used to their five star newcomers entering the season with an immediate impact. For the majority of freshmen in college basketball, it takes a while.
Players often need time in the sped-up game to learn the tricks of the trade, especially when it comes to slowing down the talented players and more advanced sets run by high major programs.
With a year under his belt, the hope for Kentucky fans is that Sacha follows a similar development to our Willie Cauley-Stein. Can Sacha provide UK Fans the same great memories Willie provided us? Time will tell.
Killeya-Jones can, however, make a huge leap on the defensive end of the floor by following the formula that turned what Bleacher Report called a “raw long-term talent” in Cauley-Stein after his freshman season into the best college defender in the world.
Like most all Calipari recruits, Killeya-Jones presents himself as a fine young man and we hope he has an awesome UK career.