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Sacha Killeya-Jones can provide versatility, defensive potential for young Kentucky Wildcats

After a year observing mostly from the bench, Sacha Killeya-Jones could be one of Kentucky’s most underrated pieces in 2017-18.

Jeremy Chisenhall

“The Sacha now would enjoy playing against the Sacha last year,” Sacha Killeya-Jones told reporters during a roundtable discussion in August.

From the sound of things in Fletcher Page’s piece at The Courier-Journal on Killeya-Jones, SKJ sounded like a new person and a player that’s ready for a bigger spotlight in Lexington for the 2017-18 season.

Killeya-Jones appeared in just 15 games for Kentucky during his freshman season. SKJ didn’t play a prominent role in UK’s run to the Elite Eight, but he technically enters his sophomore season as a “veteran” of John Calipari’s program because that’s just how things roll in Lexington each season.

Although he’s almost as inexperienced as the likes of Kevin Knox, Quade Green and the rest of Calipari’s star-studded freshman class this season, Sacha Killeya-Jones could be a more important piece than you’d think. It’s easy to forget that SKJ was a five-star recruit himself last year that Calipari poached from Tar Heel Country in Chapel Hill.

"Toward the end of the year, I started learning a lot and a lot of things started to click,” Killeya-Jones said during the roundtable.

“I think at practice, even though I wasn't getting on the court, hearing (Calipari) tell me I was heading in the right direction was really good, just to keep up what I doing and build on that going into this year."

The “right direction” is making extra plays — like this one from his best performance of the season last year against UT Martin at home — to get an extra possession for the ‘Cats and a bucket.

Killeya-Jones scored 40 points all season long last year and 12 of them came in that blowout UT Martin win. He only played in 13 minutes, but made six of his eight shot attempts and grabbed four rebounds. It may have been against lesser competition, but SKJ showed some promise during the few times he was on the floor. He’s got good size at 6-foot-10 and is built well (with room to grow) at 230 pounds.

The more I watched SKJ, the more his body type reminded me of Skal Labissiere, but with a pinch more physical nature to his game.

“I use this word a lot, but I think I'm versatile in terms of, I think I can play in a lot of different matchups and a lot of different situations,” Killeya-Jones said back in August.

“I think when I really have my game going I affect the game a lot of different ways, blocking shots, going back and forth, making multiple efforts on multiple possessions. I think that's one thing I can help, really bring to the team that I didn't really get a chance last year.”

Kentucky will be bigger and stronger than most teams they’ll play this season, hence why CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein said that Kentucky’s best offense might be a missed shot while he watched this year’s ‘Cats practice recently.

Calipari doesn’t necessarily prefer that his big men shoot the basketball, but like Labissiere, SKJ has great touch on his jumper and could be a fun piece for Cal to use with his ball-handling guards in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets.

The ‘Cats are loaded up front with SKJ, Nick Richards, Wenyen Gabriel and Tai Wynyard. That’s not even included their length with the injured Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox and P.J. Washington. Kentucky is a huge bunch. That means Calipari can utilize some different lineups, which could open the door for SKJ to make an impact on both ends.

Questions arose about Sacha Killeya-Jones’ effort and whether or not he was really putting in the work necessary to crack Calipari’s rotation last season. The ‘Cats had to mix and match pieces behind big Bam Adebayo last season and Calipari will be doing that early in the season to see what he really has up front and overall with this “youngest team ever.”

The big thing for Killeya-Jones is to do everything. Work on the jumper. Get physical on the blocks because you’ll be spending a lot of time there with the playing time you receive. Hit the weight room at 6 a.m. each day. Work over both shoulders with the hooks. Run, run and run some more. The best thing you can do as a John Calipari-coached big is run the floor and play defense like it’s March on a nightly basis.

The more versatile SKJ wants to be and actually is, the better off he and Kentucky will be. As talented as Kentucky is, they have a lot of questions. Killeya-Jones can answer some of them if he can be the big that Labissiere was supposed to be in Lexington.