On Monday, the Kentucky Wildcats saw two players leave for different reasons.
The first was Sacha Killeya-Jones, who announced his decision to transfer. Later, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander announced he was leaving for the 2018 NBA Draft.
It’s never easy waving goodbye to a player, yet John Calipari had to do it twice on Monday. In regards to Sacha, Calipari hates to see the sophomore forward leave, but he understands sometimes it’s time to find greener pastures elsewhere.
“It’s never easy for me seeing a player go, especially when it’s someone you’ve seen grow as much as Sacha has and someone you want to continue to coach,” Calipari said in a press release. “I truly believe Sacha was just starting to find out who he is and that his best days are ahead of him. I still believe that whether he’s here or someone else.
“With that said, when a kid comes to me and believes what’s best for him is somewhere else, they always have my full support. We want what’s best for these kids and will always do whatever we can to make sure they can pursue their dreams. Our staff wishes Sacha nothing but the best.”
UK also announced that Sacha will be given a full release from his scholarship, allowing him to transfer wherever he wishes.
Not long after Sacha announced his decision, Shai revealed on ESPN SportsCenter that he was off to the NBA. It didn’t come as a surprise the moment he made the call, but it was still one of the better feel-good stories of the Calipari era.
Shai came to UK as a unheralded four-star recruit, and most recruiting services had him ranked the lowest of UK’s seven-man 2017 class (8 if you count Hamidou Diallo).
But by the time his freshman season ended, Shai was not only UK’s best player, but also one of the top players in college basketball, not to mention a likely lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
“Shai’s development is a story I’ll tell our players for the rest of my career,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “When we talk about building your own confidence and conquering yourself, Shai is the perfect example. You’re talking about a kid who had the physical tools and had the potential to be in this position, but he elevated his game because he woke up at 7 a.m. every day to work out, was the best in the weight room, watched film and never missed class.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve never met a kid who is undisciplined off the court be disciplined on it. Shai’s entire life is disciplined, and it’s not forced by others around him. He’s done this because he’s put in the work, and it’s that attitude and mindset that will ensure his success at the next level. I couldn’t be more proud of him and I know that whatever team gets him is going to get a young man that will bring a winning mentality.”
Here’s a replay of Shai announcing his decision: