LEXINGTON, Ky. — So why should a guy who scored 40 total points and didn’t play in Kentucky’s final 19 games last season help reassure Wildcats fans after the loss of 5-star recruit Mohamed Bamba to Texas? Because that guy is 6-foot-10 former McDonald’s All-American Sacha Killeya-Jones, who could be much more than a consolation prize.
“We’ve been in the gym every day the last two weeks since he’s been home,” said Gilbert Abraham, a North Carolina-based personal trainer who worked with Killeya-Jones since he was in ninth grade. “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.”
Killeya-Jones fell behind his talented teammates as a freshman last season and, to many fans’ surprise, was banished to the bench by late January. He played in just 15 games, a total of 96 minutes. So what happened and why will next season be different?
“He was the youngest guy on that team last year; he’s younger than several of the freshmen coming in this year,” Abraham said. “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 how he’s been since high school. Once he gets comfortable, he gets better and better and better.”
Sources close to the Kentucky program told SEC Country that, while he didn’t play, Killeya-Jones turned a corner in practice over the final month of the season and began to turn heads. He carried that momentum into the offseason, motivated by an opportunity for playing time.
That prospect improved when Bamba picked the Longhorns. Now it’ll be Killeya-Jones or 5-star freshman 7-footer Nick Richards — or a combination of both — in the 5 spot for the Wildcats next season. No longer crippled by the enormous expectations of playing for Kentucky, Killeya-Jones is instead energized by the challenge.
“You get to a point where you stop putting the wrong kind of pressure on yourself and you just go out and prepare,” Abraham said. “You just have to make sure you stay ready, and when the opportunity presents itself, you strike. He doesn’t have any control over when Coach [John Calipari] may call his name, but he does control over how he prepares. That’s what I’ve been preaching to him.
“Some people get that chance and they lack the talent to capitalize. He does not lack the talent. Actually, he has a pretty complete skill set offensively. There’s not much he can’t do.”
Abraham trains NBA guard Raymond Felton — the No. 5 pick in the 2005 draft — and several other pros. He’s also training multiple 2017 NBA Draft hopefuls, including a potential lottery pick. Killeya-Jones is training alongside them.
And get this: Killeya-Jones “looks like a guy who’s ready to be a part” of the draft,” Abraham said.
Kentucky fans sleeping on Killeya-Jones “don’t have a clue what he can do,” Abraham said.
“He’s extremely long, agile, a Swiss Army knife. He can challenge shots at the rim, he can drive it, he can shoot it, he can put it on the floor. He’s a Chris Bosh type who can do a little bit of everything.
“Whether Cal decides to play him at the 4 or 5 or wherever, he has excellent touch and dexterity and skill. I think he’s ready to show it.”
Killeya-Jones, who had his pick of schools a year ago, was productive when he did play for Kentucky. He averaged 16.7 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes. If he fulfills that considerable potential this season, the loss of Bamba will sting a lot less.