Photo courtesy of UK Athletics
Kentucky sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones was the first player to commit to John Calipari’s loaded 2016 recruiting class. The 6-10 forward originally committed to Virginia, before flipping his commitment to the Wildcats in the summer of 2015.
Killeya-Jones, a former five-star recruit, made his way to Lexington with a ton of hype and potential. That is nothing new under the direction of John Calipari, as half of his players at UK have signed a contract in the NBA. Despite being a versatile forward with great shot blocking athleticism and a smooth mid-range jumper, Killeya-Jones found himself in an unfamiliar position, the bench.
Facing an uphill climb as a freshman, Killeya-Jones was forced to play behind eventual lottery pick, Bam Adebayo, and Isaac Humphries. Killeya-Jones played in just 15 games, totaling 96 minutes of court time. He averaged 2.7 points and 2.1 rebounds while failing to make an appearance after the Jan 21st matchup vs. South Carolina.
Towards the end of last season, rumors and speculation begin to surface that the 6-10 forward would transfer in search of playing time. During the recruiting process, Killeya-Jones received interests from Florida, Kansas, and North Carolina. However, the decision of Humphries to pursue a professional career early and the recruiting miss of Mohammed Bamba left the frontcourt wide open in Lexington.
Fans expressed concern when the Wildcats missed on Bamba, who surprised everyone with a commitment to Texas. The decision by Killeya-Jones to return for his sophomore season and the addition of five-star freshman Nick Richards softens the blow of losing Bamba. Calipari will have someone who has gone through a full season to help Richards make the transition to college basketball. Both Killeya-Jones and Richards will provide elite rim protection, something the Wildcats desperately missed last season.
Entering this season, one would think that Killeya-Jones would have an early advantage for a starting role. However, many fans forget to mention him and instead discuss Richards. Something tells me that Killeya-Jones could be a breakout candidate. The sophomore has the build at 6-10, 230lbs to be a force for the Wildcats.
The seven-foot Richards may start, but Killeya-Jones will make him earn it. Kentucky needs the sophomore to be what he was advertised to be, an elite forward with the versatility to play the 4 or the 5, but most of all they need his leadership for what is Calipari’s youngest group of Wildcats.