Sacha Killeya-Jones Transfer: An unfortunate Kentucky basketball casualty

BOISE, ID - MARCH 15: Sacha Killeya-Jones
BOISE, ID - MARCH 15: Sacha Killeya-Jones /

If you’ve been following my writing at all this season, you know I’m a huge fan of Sacha Killeya-Jones. SKJ had a very short leash with Calipari, which was always a surprise to many of BBN. What does Killeya-Jones’ transfer mean for Kentucky’s roster? What does this mean for future recruiting challenges?

Sacha Killeya-Jones had a good run to end the season. I was at the SEC Tournament Championship this year (phenomenal experience). I quite literally JUMPED out of my seat when SKJ had the put-back slamma jamma dunk to ignite the crowd. SKJ, nearly every single time he stepped on the floor, gave UK more than Nick Richards. His transfer should come at no surprise to  Big Blue Nation, and to me that’s the unfortunate part of it.

Why did John Calipari continue to start Nick Richards every game this season? Richards was terrible for almost the entire season, but especially once SEC play began. Richards, visibly frustrated, had lost confidence and rarely stayed on the floor three minutes after tip-off.

Why did Cal continue to start Richards game after game? Sacha Killeya-Jones, once SEC play started and especially in the final month of the season, was far more productive than Richards. But Calipari never rewarded SKJ with a starting position. Calipari never rewarded SKJ with the public recognition and public praise that he would with other players.

Before you argue that “it doesn’t matter who starts, it matters who gets the minutes” theory, answer this: Why did Calipari continue to start Richards? If he wasn’t producing, and it doesn’t matter who starts, then why not move on to SKJ or Wenyen Gabriel as a starter? This would help UK start the game better, with more productive players on the floor. If it didn’t matter who started, then why did Richards rarely ever start in the second half?

Just imagine how difficult it was for SKJ to watch Richards start over him, game after game. If Richards was struggling that badly (and he absolutely was), but continued to start, SKJ clearly knew his place on the team. It didn’t matter how productive SKJ was, or the work he put in. Calipari showed priority to a struggling Richards over a productive SKJ.

That being said, why would Killeya-Jones come back for another year of this treatment? Calipari, and there might be a “behind the scenes” reason, did not prioritize SKJ as a part of this team. When SKJ was playing well, he continued to get minutes. But after one single mistake, he was yanked off the floor and lucky to re-enter the game.

Jones can score in the post, grab offensive rebounds and knock down mid-range jumpers. He is more versatile of a defender than Richards, and showed more production on the defensive end as well. However, Richards continued to get the starting position over SKJ.

What does this mean for Kentucky going forward?

Ok, so Sacha Killeya-Jones transfers – is it a big deal? Tai Wynyard transfers, is it a big deal? Isaac Humphries and Isiah Briscoe left prematurely. It’s very possible that Wenyen Grabriel and Hamidou Diallo will leave this year as well. Each of these situations should concern BBN for one common reason: does the UK coaching staff really develop its players?

Calipari has shown he can bring in elite talent, one-and-done lottery picks. But what about the SKJ’s, the Briscoe’s, and the Gabriel’s that choose UK? Why don’t they develop, after 2 years with the program, into competent starters for UK? Why don’t they develop into lottery picks? Even the Harrison twins seemed to struggle to meet expectations and develop to higher potential in their 2nd year.

This is a concern for UK. When Calipari is unable to bring in top-level, elite one-and-dones, how will his teams have success?