LEXINGTON, Ky. — Sacha Killeya-Jones is the odd McDonald’s All-American out.
Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo — all former McDonald’s All-Americans — are in Kentucky’s starting lineup. Killeya-Jones hasn’t played a minute in almost two months.
A 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward with a former 5-star label would find playing time at most places, but Killeya-Jones has become an afterthought for John Calipari’s Wildcats.
“It’s frustrating not playing because I love basketball,” Killeya-Jones said. “I want to be on the court helping any way I can.”
Killeya-Jones said he is content as long as Kentucky is winning games and as long as he’s getting better in practice. Check the first box with the Cats winning the SEC regular-season title and conference tournament. UK, with the nation’s fifth-longest winning streak, is headed to Indianapolis as the No. 2 seed in the South Region.
And as for improving in practice? Killeya-Jones said he’s accomplishing that goal as well.
“I feel like I’m a whole new player since I got here,” he said. “Just physically better, more aggressive. Mentally, just more mature. I’m just seeing the game differently.”
Killeya-Jones, special but not unique
Senior forward Derek Willis is a starter these days, but he was able to relate to Killeya-Jones’ frustration. Willis played in just 14 games as a freshman. Killeya-Jones played in 15 games to date but hasn’t played more than five minutes since Jan. 3 against Texas A&M.
“The difference between me and him though with our freshmen years is I don’t think I was as focused as he was on basketball to be honest with you,” Willis said. “I let my personal life kind of get the best of me and other outside stuff bother me. I think he’ll be fine. He’ll stay focused.”
Fellow freshman Wenyen Gabriel said he hasn’t heard any complaints from Killeya-Jones. Gabriel is behind Monk, Fox and Adebayo in playing time, but he has stuck in the rotation unlike Killeya-Jones.
“He’s still waiting for his chance, but he still gets an opportunity in practice to make Coach confident to put him in a game,” Gabriel said.
It doesn’t get easier
And while Killeya-Jones would be expected to take on a larger role next season, there’s no guarantee. Adebayo is expected to enter the NBA draft but that would leave Killeya-Jones in a position battle with sophomore Isaac Humphries, who’s ahead of him now, and redshirt freshman Tai Wynyard.
And somewhere in the middle of it will be Killeya-Jones. There’s just no telling where.
“He has a lot of potential to be really, really good whether he knows it or not,” Willis said. “Potential doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t want to work with it. He stays with it and he’ll go as far as it takes him.”