Getting Inside with Sasha Killeya-Jones & Bam Adebayo
By: Larry Vaught
If a player comes to Kentucky, John Calipari has to have seen something special in a player to offer him a scholarship.
The Kentucky coach knew freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones was a good player. He just didn’t know how good until he got on campus and started competing with other talented teammates.
So was Killeya-Jones, who originally had committed to Virginia, just better than Calipari realized or has he improved since getting to UK in June?
“I think maybe both. I have gotten a lot better since I have been here,” Killeya-Jones said. “Obviously Coach did his research and knows what I am about. I think I have just got better since I got here thanks to him, the other coaches and the competition in practice against those guys. I guess I have just shown what I can do every day. I play as hard as I can. I have gained 12-13 pounds since I got here. So it is just a combination of things.”
He was glad he got to show off what improvement he’s made at the preseason combine attended by 90 NBA scouts and coaches.
“It was an experience like I have never had before. I have played in front of a ton of people before, so in terms of numbers there were not that many people here but the level of the people here was crazy. Just when you walked in the gym before to get treatment and I was looking and there is (Boston general manager) Danny Ainge and others. It was cool.
“When you are at a lot of other schools you hope NBA scouts see you or somebody is watching but here you have a practice in front of all of them and know they are going to see what you can do. That’s hard to beat.”
Killeya-Jones hopes that describes him. He has the biggest hands and longest reach of anyone on the team. Former UK player Mike Pratt, now an analyst for the UK Radio Network, thinks Killeya-Jones could be a solid rebounder and inside defender, something UK needs to go along with Bam Adebayo.
“I am going to fight every possession, not take any plays off, not force anything, play smart and take advantage of situations,” the 6-10 freshman said. “I love to create mismatches. I still need to be more physical even though I have got stronger.
“I want to be the best version of myself whether I play four years at Kentucky or I am a one and done. My dream is to be a Hall of Famer. Coach said to do that, I just have to work as hard as I can and that’s what I do. I knew it would be hard here. Even the conditioning was hard but I never regretted the workouts and actually felt good about what they were doing for me.”
Killeya-Jones is part of an outgoing freshman class that does not seem the least bit overwhelmed the attention and scrutiny of the Big Blue spotlight.
“The main thing it helps is that we are all together. We are like brothers on and off the court. We get along well,” Killeya-Jones said.
De’Aaron Fox and Adebayo knew each other before signing with UK but Killeya-Jones, Malik Monk and Wenyen Gabriel got to first interact with the others during postseason all-star games last spring.
“It helped us having those earlier connections but once we got here, we are with each other all the time either working out or in the dorm,” Killeya-Jones said. “The coaches told us when we got here if we went to the mall to expect fans to know us. I don’t have any issue with fans asking for autographs or pictures. I was the same way as a kid. If anybody asks me for a picture or autograph, I will do it because that’s the right thing to do.”
Freshman center Bam Adebayo has been impressive in UK’s exhibition outings, but coach John Calipari likes what he is doing in practice even more.
“This kid works every day. He’s in there – one of the first in the gym. He’s got a smile on his face every day I walk in. I’ll give him a mean look and then he gives me a mean look. He’s a great kid. But again, this is a process. This is November, the beginning of November,” Calipari said.
“It’s the first time some of these kids are doing all of this stuff, and they’re going to be uncomfortable, and they’re going to be wrong. I mean, they’re still going to be wrong 60 to 70 percent of the time. Just play. Play hard. Compete. Battle. Come up with balls like Bam does.”
Calipari would like to see Adebayo not dribble when he gets the ball inside and just go straight to the basket because of his size and power.
“We’ve gotta get him where he’s comfortable at that free-throw line. All of our big guys are really good passers. And really, you gotta play them all because they can all shoot 15-footers, including Bam,” Calipari said.
What many might not realize about Adebayo is that he considers himself a “mama’s boy” and freely admits he calls her or texts her every day to keep his connection with her back in North Carolina.
‘On scale of 1 to 10, I miss her a 12,” the Kentucky freshman said. “I am a big mama’s boy. My mom is like my best friend. I can call and talk to her about anything that is upsetting me and she will do the same. It’s just always been me and her, so she is like my best friend.”
Adebayo says he can even discuss his favorite musical artist with his mom.
“I can talk to her about Katie Perry. She does not mind. She wants me to explore my genres of music and just have fun,” Adebayo said. “It’s just her mood toward her music. She’s always happy and perky. I like to be happy, so why not listen to happy music from her.”