LEXINGTON, Ky. — Pop Pop was always there for Sacha Killeya-Jones, so it was fitting that he was there with the Kentucky sophomore Saturday afternoon at Missouri.
Raymond Jones, SKJ’s paternal grandfather, passed away on Jan. 30, the night the Wildcats roared back to beat Vanderbilt in overtime. During his grandfather’s final hours, Killeya-Jones wore sneakers with Raymond’s name and “4 POP POP” written on them.
By Saturday’s game, he had added “1.6.35” — Pop Pop’s birthday, Jan. 6, 1935 — and “1.30.18,” the day he died.
“My grandfather was really big for me growing up. He was always there for me, one of my biggest fans, and I learned a lot from him,” Killeya-Jones said. “He was a really important person in my life, and he passed a couple nights ago, so it was big for me to try to do something just to honor him and bring him on the court with me.”
I have a soft spot for anyone hurting over an influential grandfather. Still miss my Big Daddy every day. Godspeed, Pop Pop, and good luck SKJ. pic.twitter.com/oFud7N7PE4
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) February 3, 2018
In two games with Pop Pop along for the ride, SKJ has played a total of 33 minutes off the bench for Kentucky and produced 6 points (3 of 4 shooting), 7 rebounds and a blocked shot. For the season, the 6-foot-10 Chapel Hill, N.C., native is averaging 10.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per 40 minutes, shooting 60 percent from the field.
“I know my grandma definitely appreciated [the gesture with his sneakers],” Killeya-Jones said. “And my father as well. That was just something for my family, something to honor my grandfather. He was a great person.”
Killeya-Jones is just the latest Wildcats player to make a personal statement with his shoes. Several teammates have worn bright, colorful footwear, while freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sported a pair of Nikes covered in the all-caps word “EQUALITY” at South Carolina and freshman center Nick Richards wore custom size-16 black, green and yellow sneakers for his home country Jamaica against Florida.
Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t expressly told players they can make statements with their shoes, “but that’s the one part of the uniform where you do have some freedom,” Killeya-Jones said. “Everything else, they put it in your locker before the game. So that’s the only freedom you do have. This team, everybody enjoys shoes, everybody has a pretty good collection, so we’ve definitely had some heat on feet this year.”