EDITOR’S NOTE: John Calipari is preparing to put his youngest team yet on the floor — and that is saying something — for the 2017-18 season. Among the 11 scholarship players on the Kentucky roster, eight are freshmen, three are sophomores and … that’s it.
There is enough talent for a deep postseason run, but also enough inexperience for Big Blue Nation to be concerned. So in our Final Fourcast series, we’re breaking down each of the Wildcats and what role they might play in pursuit of a fifth Final Four in nine seasons under Calipari. In this edition, it’s sophomore power forward Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Sacha Killeya-Jones: The basics
He’s one of just three scholarship guys 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.
How Sacha Killeya-Jones fits
So why should anyone expect much 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 sources told SEC Country 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.
And now 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.” — Gilbert Abraham, a personal trainer who has worked with Killeya-Jones since ninth grade (and also trains former top-five NBA draft pick Raymond Felton)
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 could give him an edge despite offensive deficiencies. But Killeya-Jones should, at a minimum, be in the regular rotation.
We’ll set the floor at 15 minutes per game and the ceiling at 25. The only real shock would be if he completely vanishes again.
The series so far …
- SG Hamidou Diallo has something to prove
- Quade Green next in line at Point Guard U
- PF P.J. Washington aims to be positionless
- Former QB Kevin Knox could play anywhere for Cats
- Jarred Vanderbilt another interchangeable forward
- Wenyen Gabriel refocused after hitting freshman wall
- 7-foot freshman Nick Richards a real rim protector
Up next: freshman combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (publishing Tuesday, Sept. 19)