Sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones tweeted Monday that he will “explore other opportunities” with the intent to transfer from Kentucky.
“The past two years at Kentucky have been an amazing journey,” Killeya-Jones tweeted. “And I want to thank all of my coaches, teammates and fans who made it possible.
“After much deliberation with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to ask for my release and explore other opportunities at this time.”
The UK player’s mother, Ley Killeya-Jones, declined comment. She said the family wanted to “lay low” until Kentucky granted her son’s request for a release. UK said that Killeya-Jones would be granted a full release.
Killeya-Jones’ coach at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Va., said he was caught by surprise.
“Honestly, I’m a little shocked myself,” Curtis Staples said. “I thought he had already pretty much gotten past (any dissatisfaction). I thought he was OK. I thought he was turning the curve a little bit.”
Monday’s tweet was not the first time Killeya-Jones surprised his high school coach. Staples was also caught unawares when Killeya-Jones decommitted from Virginia during the recruiting process.
“I thought he was solid there,” Staples said of Killeya-Jones’ verbal commitment to Virginia.
A comment from John Calipari in a news release suggested that Killeya-Jones’ desire to transfer surprised the Kentucky coach.
“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. “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 somewhere 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.”
Killeya-Jones came to Kentucky in 2016 as a McDonald’s All-American. UK’s media guide described him as a “double-double machine” as a high school player for Virginia Episcopal.
But Killeya-Jones’ career at Kentucky never blossomed. As a freshman, he did not play after Jan. 21, and made only one field goal after Dec. 11.
His sophomore season saw him help fill the void created by an injury that sidelined Jarred Vanderbilt for the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments. Killeya-Jones’ minutes and production increased noticeably. In one stretch that covered UK’s last two games in the conference tournament and first two games of the NCAA Tournament, he made seven of 11 shots, scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
After Killeya-Jones had six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes against Alabama in the SEC Tournament semifinals, Calipari said, “Watching him play, both on defense, offense, rebounding the ball, he’s fighting. He makes us different.”
Killeya-Jones’ sophomore season, and perhaps his Kentucky career, ended on a quiet note. He did not score nor grab a rebound in 14 minutes against Kansas State in UK’s NCAA Tournament loss.
For his two seasons, Killeya-Jones averaged 3.1 points and 2.7 rebounds.
Killeya-Jones became the second UK player to announce he will not return next season. Last week leading scorer Kevin Knox said he would enter his name in this year’s NBA Draft and hire an agent.
Players transferring has become commonplace in college basketball.
Killeya-Jones will become the eighth player to transfer from UK during Calipari’s nine seasons as coach.
The previous seven are Darnell Dodson (Southern Mississippi), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech), Ryan Harrow (Georgia State), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Marcus Lee (California), Charles Matthews (Michigan) and Tai Wynyard (next school not announced).
“It’s tough. In this program, there are so many talented guys,” Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said this past season when asked about teammates not getting to play as much as they’d like. “You’ve got to step back sometimes and take a seat.”