Q&A: Sacha Killeya-Jones did not let difficult freshman season deter him

Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor
Cats Illustrated

Almost overnight, Sacha Killeya-Jones has gone from being one of the biggest mysteries on last year's UK roster to one of the Wildcats' most experienced players. In this Cats Illustrated Q&A, the sophomore forward talks about his tough freshman season and how he emerged a different player.

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Cats Illustrated File Photo

On feeling like a different player entering this season...

“Definitely. Confidence-wise, I feel like a different player on the court. Last year, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, now I have a whole year under my belt, a whole summer of really hard work. I’m just ready to go.

“I think the Sacha now would have enjoyed playing against the Sacha last year, mentally as well as my physical game… becoming the aggressor. I just feel like I’ve evolved in a bunch of different ways.”

On why he didn’t play more last year…

“I’m not really sure, but I can go back and look at it, I’m going back and looking at different film, the mistakes I was making and what I need to improve on. I just tried to take all of those things and work on that and get ready as much as possible for this year.”

On what he learned about what it takes to get on the floor at Kentucky…

“You have to go hard all the time. You have to be patient. You can’t force anything or try to do too much. You just have to get really good at what your team needs you to do, and once you do that, the team needs you to be on the court for your role.

“I had to (learn to be patient) or else a lot of people would have gone crazy or tried to give up. Last year was really a good learning experience. It was really humbling. I had to learn to just sit back and go to work, come back ready.”

On what some of the conversations with Coach Cal were like last season and this summer…

“The conversations were all really good. I think every time we had a conversation, I improved after that. I took what he said to heart. You just have to trust him in a situation like that because he’s had so many players come through here, and he could put me in the same position if I just listened to him about what I needed to improve on.

“He thought going over to Europe would be good for me, and it really was a lot of his idea to go through with that. I’m glad he let me go over there. So there’s been a lot of healthy conversation, just him trying to point me in the right direction.”

On whether he senses the fans are excited to see him on the court…

“The fans have been great. They showed a lot of support for me when things weren’t going great. The fans have always been awesome. All summer they’ve been really supportive. Just seeing some of the kids at the camps has me excited for this year.”

On what fans haven’t seen about his game yet...

“I think I’ve used this term a lot, but I’m versatile. I can play in a lot of different matchups and situations. When I really have my game going, I think I really affect the game in a lot of different ways, you know, blocking shots, going back and forth with effort on possessions.”

On how he’s improved physically…

“I had to get stronger, mostly in my base, more physical, become the aggressor. In a lot of physical situations, that’s one thing I really learned last year and where I was overseas (with the British National Team) as well.”

On sticking with it even though he wasn’t getting playing time in the second half of last season...

“Towards the end of the year I really started to learn a lot, a lot of things started clicking in practice even though I wasn’t getting on the court a lot. (Calipari) was telling me I was heading in the right direction, that it was really good, to keep doing what I’m doing and build on that going into this year.”

On what those things were…

“Just filling my role. Just playing how I need to play instead of trying to force things or do too much. Just playing simply. Slowing the game down, doing what came to me. Blocking shots and stuff.”

On getting support from his teammates during a difficult transition year...

“Everybody in the locker room was really supportive. Those are all my brothers. All those guys were like, ‘Keep your head up, be ready.’ And some of the older guys like Derek (Willis) and Dom (Hawkins) and just some other seniors were all great for me. They said you’re going to go through some stuff, just fight through it, keep your head up, you’re going to be fine.”

On suddenly being one of the “older” guys…

“I think it’s a good opportunity to teach some of the younger guys to come in here and be ready. This season is going to hit quickly. You gotta be ready to go.”

On his overseas trip and international play for Great Britain…

“It was an awesome experience. I got to go to Greece, Israel and London, England. It was my first time over in Europe. Just seeing everything was cool. Basketball-wise, I was playing against all pros the whole time, so it was great to play against grown men. The game is a lot more slow over there, but it’s a lot more technical, so I learned a lot of little things as far as rotations and help-side defenses and a lot of little techinical things -- cuts and things you really don’t do over here.”

On getting familiar with his new teammates…

“I was here for the entire summer. I left to go overseas when everybody else left to go home, so I didn’t miss any time here except for a day or two… I think they’re really long. Everybody’s really versatile. Everybody can play multiple positions and defend multiple position. They get out on the break really well. I think we’re going to be a really active defensive team that’s going to capitalize off our defense for our offense.

“I think it’s going to let us play in a lot of different situations. I think it’s going to be difficult for teams to pigeon-hole us. ‘Oh, all you gotta do is play them halfcourt’ or ‘All you gotta do is speed them up.’ I think we’re going to be able to adjust well to how a team plays.”

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