De’Aaron Fox was standing on the sideline during a McDonald’s All-American practice this week when future University of Kentucky teammate Sacha Killeya-Jones — all 6 feet 11 of him — sprinted down the court, did a spin move and hit a fadeaway jumper in a defender’s face.
“Wow!” exclaimed one of the coaches standing near Fox.
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s in his game. He does that,’” Fox recalled, seemingly used to the sight.
For the uninitiated, it’s an unusual one.
Killeya-Jones came to the McDonald’s game this week ranked by Scout.com as the No. 30 overall prospect in the country, making him the lowest-rated of UK’s five signees in next season’s recruiting class.
In a normal year, Killeya-Jones would possibly be a top-10 prospect. In a normal program, he would almost certainly be the centerpiece of the class.
But this group of recruits is being hailed as one of the best in awhile, and there’s nothing normal about UK when it comes to basketball recruiting.
So Killeya-Jones has flown somewhat under the radar — as much as a McDonald’s All-American headed to Kentucky can — but he’s made a positive impression on his future teammates, and anyone else who’s managed to see him throughout the week.
“He’s just one of those guys that people just don’t give credit to,” said Bam Adebayo, another UK signee. “When we get out there at Kentucky and he shows what he’s got, nobody can say anything about him being under the radar.”
Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels called him one of the surprises of McDonald’s week.
Daniels knew he was a super-skilled offensive player, but Killeya-Jones has also been effective on the other end of the floor this week against elite competition.
“Where he’s stood out is being a help-side shot blocker,” Daniels said. “He’s pinned a handful of shots on the glass, he’s been active, he’s quick reacting to plays.
“Guys, especially at this game, can push him around a little. But his body is starting to fill out, and I think when he gets in a college weight room and he gets that weight thrown on him, he’s going to be even better.”
Killeya-Jones, listed at 215 pounds, is looking forward to that.
He knows he needs to get a little bigger, and he knows he’ll face some of the best competition in the country every day in practice next season. That’s a big reason he chose Kentucky in the first place.
“It’s going to be intense,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of people going at each other’s necks, and everybody’s going to be getting better every day.”
Competition in practice means competition for playing time, and that will be a battle in a frontcourt with Adebayo, expected returnees Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard, as well as 6-10 small forward Wenyen Gabriel, who could play some in the post, and the possible late addition of No. 1-ranked center Marques Bolden.
Killeya-Jones has shown this week — and over the past few months — that he has the offensive tools to get on the floor right away. His touches have been limited in McDonald’s practices with so many other great players, but he’s made the most of them, knocking down hook shots and fadeaway jumpers regularly with range that extends to the three-point line.
“He certainly is going to have an opportunity to play,” Daniels said. “He’s talented. He’s very gifted offensively. He has the tools. He just has to get stronger, learn to play physical and be more consistent.”
Killeya-Jones says his smooth versatility on offense is what should set him apart in the Wildcats’ crowded frontcourt.
“I feel like if I have a slower, stronger player, I can stretch them out to the three-point line and take them off the bounce,” he said. “And if I have a skinnier player, I can take them to the post. I think versatility is my biggest thing on the floor. I like to bang, and I like to spread it out. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do.”
Killeya-Jones doesn’t flinch at being called the “overlooked” player in this No. 1-ranked UK recruiting class. He’s glad to be coming to Lexington with the other talented guys in this group, and he’s willing to do whatever John Calipari and the coaching staff ask to get on the court next season.
Just because he’s happy to be a Wildcat doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.
“I’m always looking for more,” he said. “I’m going at more people, and people are seeing me play. And they’re like, ‘Wow, this kid can really play.’ I think by the time it’s all said and done, people will kind of regret ranking me as low.
“But, rankings, I’m not really too concerned with them. I’m just trying to go out there and win games. It’s an honor to go to Kentucky.”