It didn’t happen early and it didn’t happen with a bullet. Gradually, and not beginning until the summer prior to his junior year, Sacha Killeya-Jones played his way up the grassroots ladder.
The 6-10 big man from North Carolina competed with Team Felton on the 2014 Under Armour circuit and flashed high-major potential in a thin, developing body. He performed well at both tournaments and camps, earning a top-100 ranking as the 2014-15 season arrived.
On New Year’s Day this past January, Killeya-Jones ended his recruitment by committing to the Cavaliers. The power forward preps in Virginia and thus UVa emerged as a highly appealing local, excellent academic option.
He progressed through spring and summer, but by June he’d begun to feel that he had committed too early. Seeking to experience a more expansive and deliberate recruitment, he backed off is UVa commitment and opened the process to new suitors.
It required no time for major coaches to toss their hats into the ring. Florida jumped in immediately, followed thereafter by North Carolina, Kentucky, NC State, Connecticut, Kansas, California and others.
While managing a blossoming recruitment, Killeya-Jones didn’t forget to bring it on the court, either. He performed well in June and even better during the July live period, closing out the summer with Team Loaded VA on the Adidas circuit.
In Las Vegas late last month, he scintillated versus top-shelf competition and established himself as a legitimate candidate for national five star status.
And now, a few weeks later, he’s all set to don the Kentucky blue.
Boiled down, Killeya-Jones is a mobile and skilled forward who continues to add dimensions to his game. He’s at his very best playing within 8-15 feet of the basket, where he utilizes excellent touch on mid-range and turnaround jump shots (as you can see in the highlights above).
He possesses good hands to make difficult catches in traffic and possesses commendable instincts to finish over opposing big men. His footwork is advanced for his age and his jump shot mechanics sound for the next level and beyond.
Athletically, Killeya-Jones isn’t going to remind folks of Shawn Kemp but certainly doesn’t lack for quickness and bounce. His reflexes also are good, enabling him to retrieve loose balls and long rebounds effectively.
Gaining strength partially explains his improved play. Killeya-Jones remains thin but now is more sinewy than wiry, and the result is that he’s able to hold his position better inside, enhancing his scoring, rebounding and defense. As he’s able to knock in buckets via hook shots and other close-range attempts, he becomes all the more effective stepping out to 15 feet and burying jump shots.
Moreover, his continued progress and overall upward trajectory bode very well for his future. We write these words all time because they ring true: Big men frequently need more time to develop. Killeya-Jones is no oddity in that regard, and who knows when his development will begin to flatten out and resemble that of his peers? For now, he’s gaining ground on those who previously had been ranked ahead of him.
Flexibility is an area Killeya-Jones can improve. Modern training — and basketball-specific trainers — preach the critical importance of flexibility through the shoulders and hips, and Killeya-Jones can become more fluid and elastic. Doing so will enhance his athleticism around the bucket, balance and ability to fend off injuries.
Along with that, continuing to gain muscle and build on his improvement as a rebounder and post defender will be key. Killeya-Jones projects as a power forward, not a wing, and for the professional level he’ll have to shore up those areas in order to maximize his chances.
He clearly possesses the jump shot to play away from the basket and slot into a stretch role down the road, but defensively he’s likely to remain a post.
Kentucky knows what it’s doing in recruiting. The Wildcats have become famous — or infamous, to rival fans — for landing top-five prospects, but they’ve also scouted very effectively on those occasions when they’ve missed top targets.
The coaching staff prioritized Killeya-Jones directly out of the gate and, while he may need a year to bring himself up to speed physically, should thrive in UK’s offense. The ‘Cats have at times become more athletic than skilled in the frontcourt — an issue that surfaced versus Wisconsin last spring, for example — and thus Killeya-Jones will serve as a balance to the club’s string of big-time athletes.
Whenever it’s time to pursue professional dreams, the NBA looms as a realistic goal. Killeya-Jones holds the face-up ability to attract scouts as well as the size for the post. If he can gain a touch more explosion, he’ll become an even hotter commodity for that level.
A four star prospect, Killeya-Jones is due for another jump in our rankings from his current No. 47 position.