UK Men's Basketball

What could have been? Sacha Killeya-Jones watched Virginia-UMBC shocker from unique perspective.

Sacha Killeya-Jones celebrated after a play against Florida in Rupp Arena earlier this season.
Sacha Killeya-Jones celebrated after a play against Florida in Rupp Arena earlier this season.

It’ll be difficult for any college basketball fan to forget where they were when UMBC pulled off the shocker of all shockers last week and became the first 16 seed to topple a No. 1 seed.

It would have been easy for Sacha Killeya-Jones to watch that game and think about where he could have been: on the court, wearing the uniform of the vanquished Virginia Cavaliers.

Killeya-Jones — once a Virginia commitment, now a Kentucky sophomore — was paying attention, but he wasn’t thinking about his recruiting past.

“I was thinking the same thing as the rest of the country,” Killeya-Jones said Wednesday. “It was definitely an impressive win for UMBC. I had to Google what their name stood for, just like everybody else. And it was definitely sad to see some of my brothers — I definitely have some friends on that team — and it was tough to see them go down like that and be sad after the game.

“It was definitely tough. But I was shocked, just like everybody else was.”

Killeya-Jones was a highly touted recruit from the class of 2016 when he backed out of his commitment to the Cavaliers during the summer of 2015, a few months before his senior season was set to begin.

UK’s coaches were among the first to call, and Killeya-Jones was in Lexington about a week later. He was given a UK scholarship offer on that trip and committed to Kentucky three months after that.

“I just felt like I had rushed my commitment,” he said Wednesday of the original pledge to UVA. “I committed early in my junior year of high school. I was still 16 years old. I just felt like I had rushed it and I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my decision. And I was lucky enough to receive an offer from Kentucky.

“I figured this was the place for me, and I was definitely right.”

It could have been easy to question that last part at times over the past two seasons.

Killeya-Jones didn’t play in the final 19 games of the Wildcats’ 2016-17 season, no longer part of John Calipari’s rotation after sporadic play over the first half of his freshman year. There were rumblings during that run that the former McDonald’s All-American might look elsewhere after his season was over, but he stuck it out and stayed with the Wildcats.

SachaDunk
Kentucky forward Sacha Killeya-Jones dunked against Buffalo last week. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

He played important minutes for most of this season before a span of eight games late in the Southeastern Conference schedule where he never logged more than seven minutes of court time in a night. He missed one game completely to attend his grandfather’s funeral. Calipari didn’t play him against Auburn when he returned to the team after that.

Killeya-Jones scored just four points and played a total of just 28 minutes over the final seven games of the regular season, and it looked like this UK postseason might be a whole lot like his last one.

He could have sulked, but the sophomore stayed positive.

He said the right things off the court, and he’s found a bigger role on the court.

Killeya-Jones has played double-digit minutes in all five of Kentucky’s postseason games so far, logging six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes against Alabama in the SEC Tournament and coming up big with eight points and six rebounds in 24 minutes — his highest total since Nov. 17 — against Davidson last week.

He could have been wondering what might have been had he stuck with that Virginia commitment. Maybe he would have played more, found a bigger immediate role. Maybe he’d be watching the NCAA Tournament from home this week.

Instead, he’s a Wildcat, once again an important part of this team, and — in the UK locker room at Phillips Arena on Wednesday — he was all smiles in anticipation of keeping this tournament run alive.

Choices he made three years ago weren’t on his mind.

“Not at all,” he said. “There’s no reason to think back like that. There’s no reason to think about things you can’t change and I wouldn’t even want to change. I’m extraordinarily happy with how my commitment has worked out. I’m happy that we’re in the Sweet 16 right now. I’m happy to be contributing to this team, and we’re ready to keep winning games.”

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